Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas Becclesians

I have been very neglectful of this blog and for that I am truly sorry to all four of my avid followers! It has been a very busy yet fruitful past three or four months, which has drawn to a nice, neat and tidy close and now I can finally exhale and look forward to Christmas.

I have written a novella, which has been a total of five years in the making from start to finish. The seed planted itself firmly in my head back in 2008 when I had the visualisation of a young girl moving to a new town where she meets her new neighbours, including one who has a mysterious secret. Over the course of the following two years, she discovers that the link between her neighbour and the ghost that she encounters at her mother's work-place have more in common than anyone thought possible.

This initial idea was took root when I loosely based it upon my own childhood experiences, set it in my beloved Beccles, and researched in depth the history of the Kings Head Hotel in New Market, Beccles. From there a fictional story grew and took a journey of its own and, over the course of the following five years, became my biggest writing achievement to date. 

Symphony of War is about my love of Beccles history, as well as the history of World War Two and the child evacuees, and it is a story about family and the secrets they hold. It also has a light paranormal theme attached to it, which is one of my favourite genres in fiction.

E-book cover

I have had to overcome a lot of self-inflicted stress and anxiety, and almost insurmountable self-confidence issues to get my ebook novella "out there" but now that I have taken the plunge I am immensely proud to share it with those who love Beccles as much as I do.

The year 2014 will hopefully have be back to regular blogs on this site and a new novel which is currently in its infancy but is also set in Beccles, and is centred around one of the female character's who features in Symphony of War. 

If you are interested, you can find it here: 

A very Merry Christmas to one and all, and see you in 2014 with more stories and histories of Beccles.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Knights of Beccles

The June 1992 edition of "The Waveney Life Magazine" includes a quaint little story written by local Beccles man Bob Aldous about the first car he bought in 1929. "It cost just £25," Aldous writes. "We called it 'the covered wagon' although in fact it was a 1925 Jowett 7 h.p. [horse power] car. The purchase was made from the late Mark Knights of Beccles in 1929."

1925 Jowett, owned by John Denton of Yorkshire

"I handed him [Knights] the money and asked him how to drive it! That was no problem, he said, pointing out the gears, the clutch and the brake. He bade me jump in and drive off! Well, after all, there were no such things as driving tests in those days..."
"After the first week I reckoned I was a pretty good driver. So, on the Saturday morning I drove along London Road in Beccles at a smart lick. It hadn't at that stage occurred to me that you should slow down before taking a forty-five degree turn.
My visit to the garage that morning was, to say the least, a little unorthodox. 'The covered wagon' entered through the showroom window! Neither I nor the Jowett sustained any damage, but it didn't do the window much good nor some bicycles which were on display..."

Mark Benedict Knights was born in 1895 in Beccles and was the son of Alfred James Knights and Henrietta (nee Spendlove). The Knights family lived at 16 Alexandra Road in Beccles and Alfred was a Tailor by trade. During the First World War, three of Alfred and Henrietta's sons served:
Alfred John Spencer Knights - R.F.A 2nd Air Mechanic
Ernest Knights - R.F.A Signaller
Mark Benedict Knights - R.F.C Corporal

On the 1911 census returns Mark Benedict Knights was listed as an Engineer's Apprentice. Some time after the First World War I believe he took up a business partnership with Laurence Durrant. Mark married late in life to Olive Gertrude Rayner, in 1932. They had at least four known children, three daughters and one son.

I found the following in the London Gazette, dated 2 January 1951:

NOTICE is hereby given- that the Partnership
(heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned
Laurence Arthur Durrant and Mark Benedict Knights
carrying on business as Motor and Agricultural
Engineers at Beccles under the style or firm of
DURRANT-AND KNIGHTS has been dissolved by
mutual consent as from the 1st day of January, 1951,
so far as concerns the said Laurence Arthur Durrant
who retires from the firm. All debts due to and
owing by the said late firm will be received and
paid by the said Mark Benedict Knights who will
continue to carry on the said business under the same
style or firm.—Dated this 28th day of December 1950.

It was after the dissolution of the business in 1950 that Mark Benedict Knights applied to the Beccles Town Council for development of the existing business:
(20 March 1953) Beccles & Bungay Times newspaper: SALTGATE FILLING STATION: An application by Mr M Knights of Old Market Garage for development of the Saltgate frontage with petrol pumps came before the Town Council. He agreed: 1.) To stop using the two pumps in Old Market. 2.) No adverts on Saltgate. 3.) The wings should be planted with suitable trees instead of flowers. 4.) The main wall on the west side of the building be constructed of good quality red facing bricks and carried 3 feet above the eaves of the building.

Mark Benedict Knights died at Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth in 1964, aged 68.

Mark Knights business advertisement in
Beccles Official Guide, late 1950s

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Will Judge : Beccles Comedian

I'm sorry to my readers for leaving this blog for three months without typing a single word. My not-so-lame excuse is that I've been preoccupied with finishing the final edit on my first novella (which, incidentally, is set in Beccles).

Recently I acquired some 'Waveney Life' and 'The Waveney' magazines from the 1990s and amongst them are some fabulous local stories and poems to tell about Beccles and its rich variety of colourful characters of the past. One such person was comedian Will Judge.

'Waveney Life' magazine, February 1992

In the February 1992 edition of 'Waveney Life' magazine there is an article entitled "Beccles man who topped the Bill" compiled by Bob Aldous. Here follows a short extract:

"At fourteen he [Judge] was organising his own repertory company in Beccles. His stage was set up in a stable where the old Cinema building now stands in Saltgate. Will charged a penny and local folk flocked in to enjoy his shows..."

After reading this two-page article I was intrigued to know more about him, so in true genealogist style I started researching his past. Immediately I discovered that he was born Joseph James Judge, born 4 November 1883, in Beccles, son of Edgar James Judge and Jessie Elizabeth (nee Lockwood). Joseph, or Will as he later became known, had two younger brothers: Thomas Elmar Judge and Edgar Robert Gibbs Judge (who both became Tailors/Drapers, although Thomas later became a Printers Clerk).

Edgar James Judge, born in Bungay, was a Printer & Compositor by trade, quite possibly employed at Clowes Printing Works (and may have worked alongside my 2xg/grandfather who was also a Printer). In 1891 he and his wife and family were residing at Newgate Street but by the 1901 census returns they were residing at 42 Denmark Road, which remained the family home long after Edgar James Judge died in 1923.

The 1901 census states that Joseph James Judge was a Carpenter by trade which is interesting when you cross reference his career in the newspapers and find he was treading the boards across London's music halls in 1898/1899 as Will Judge, Comedian (Bob Aldous does state in his 'Waveney Life' article that "the stage was in his blood...and that he had tried to keep the family peace by training as a cabinet-maker".) By 1900 he was advertised in newspaper articles as working the Pavilion's and Palace's in Portsmouth.

The newspapers certainly paint a positive picture of Judge across time, with reviews such as:
"...whole performances arouse unrestrained laughter...'
"...Judge, comedian in humerous numbers and character studies, causing ripples of laughter..."
"...Mr Judge's forte is in character studies, and as a dame and yokel he has few superiors..."

The 1911 census return shows Judge lodging in Leiston and this was quite possibly where he met his future bride, professional singer Gertrude Hannah Orchard, as she was also lodging in Leiston in 1911. Gertrude (or Gertie as she was known in theatre circles) was a Soprano, and in 1911 was in Leiston with her younger sister Florence Orchard. The sisters were travelling from their native hometown of Blackpool to Suffolk in the hopes of finding work as singers. On 3 June 1912 Will Judge and Gertrude Orchard were married in South Shore, Blackpool.

The marriage transcript of Joseph (Will) Judge & Gertie Orchard
Will and Gertie had quite a career as a double-act, spanning the 1910s and 1920s travelling across the UK, back and forth from their home in native Beccles, entertaining in Derby, Kent, Sussex, Plymouth and Portsmouth. During the first world war Will helped entertain the forces. Will was also a keen saxophonist, liked to paint watercolours of Beccles scenes, and make scale models of sailing ships, including a local wherry.

On 8 August 1920 a son was born, Edgar Nicholas Judge and he later went on to become a Reverend in Beoley, county Worcestershire.

Gertie died in 1947 at 42 Denmark Road, in Beccles. Joseph James Judge died in 1960 "finally called to that great music hall in the sky after a life of giving joy to others" at the home of his son Edgar Nicholas Judge in Worcestershire. Edgar himself died in 1979.

'Waveney Life' magazine, February 1992

Monday, 15 July 2013

Relics of Beccles on Twitter

For anybody who was following me on Twitter, I do apologise but I have recently de-activated the account because I had run out of things to say that could only be said in less than 140 characters. There is such a wealth of Beccles history that I could write about but it would take more than Twitter to do it any justice. Therefore, I have decided to stick with the 'Relics of Beccles' blog.

Sincere thanks for all your support. It has been, and still is, very much appreciated.

Debra from Relics of Beccles

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Suspected Murder at the Ship of Sarah Ann Flowers : Part Two

On 12 October 1880 Sarah Ann Flowers, wife of James Nelson Flowers, publican of the Ship Inn in Bridge Street was found dead. This blog post - part two - covers the surgeon and coroners findings, from the inquest at Beccles and the following trial at the Suffolk and Norfolk Assizes in Norwich. The London Daily News of Saturday 16 October 1880 reported:

The coroner's jury at Beccles last night returned a verdict of 'Wilful murder' against James Flowers, publican, of Beccles, whose wife was found dead in the tap-room. The medical evidence showed that many of the woman's ribs were broken, probably by some person kneeling on her chest. The deceased was addicted to drink.

Ship Inn, 1912

Mr Edward Bowles Crowfoot, surgeon, said he made an external examination of the body of the deceased (Sarah Ann Flowers) and also performed a post mortem examination. He found bruises on the arm, thigh, and face. On post mortem examination he found ten ribs had been broken on her left side, the fracture being continued in four of the lower ones. On the right side eight of the lower ribs were fractured, and he attributed these injuries to compression in the chest, perhaps by kneeling. Crowfoot attributed the cause of death to shock, consequent of the serious injury to the ribs, which could not have been merely from a fall. The anemic condition of the brain, the pale and healthy appearance of the lungs, and the emptiness of the right side of the heart, all pointed to sudden death. Death probably ensued very quickly after such injuries, especially considering the condition of the brain, and the commencing fatty change of the heart. Mr William Taylor McComb, assistant to Messrs Crowfoot, corroborated.

At the magesterial inquiry Mr EB Crowfoot repeated the evidence he had given before the Coroner at Bccles, detailing the results of the external and post mortem examination he had made. He found the heart presented signs of fatty degeneration; the lungs were healthy; the liver was softer and more friable than it is in a state of health; the stomach, spleen and right kidney were healthy, but the left kidney was undergoing fatty degeneration. He found about 3ozs. of serous fluid in the arachnoid cavity of the brain, and the cortical surface of both hemispheres were covered with a layer of coagulated lymph. He was of the opinion that death was caused from shock consequent to the injuries to the ribs.

In cross examination Crowfoot said he noticed no disarrangement of the clothes nor any appearance of a struggle. The fatty degeneration of the heart might have caused death, and it was very likely that the serous fluid on the brain might cause death, coupled with a fall. Deceased was a person perculiarly liable, from the condition of the brain, to a fit of serous apoplexy. All the injuries might have been caused by a fall, except the fractured ribs and the position in which the deceased lay when he saw her was quite consistent with the theory that she fell from a chair in a fit.

It was proved that Sarah Ann Flowers was drunk shortly before she was found by Hannah Willingham (housekeeper to Alfred Francis, a neighbour) and that she (Flowers) was in the habit of getting drunk, and it was sought to be shown in defence that she fell down the step from the bar to the cellar, and so received the injuries to her ribs. While the medical man (Crowfoot) could not say this might not have been so, he was of the opinion that the injuries were the result of greater violence than a mere fall. Willingham believed that Sarah Ann Flowers died shortly after she put her on the chair, she having seen her head thrown back and her eyes and mouth wide open. There was no proof that the prisoner (James Nelson Flowers) had ever struck his wife, while his closing the house so early was explained as the result of his desire to prevent his wife being seen in a state of drunkeness. For a more detailed account of this trial I would strongly recommend to anybody interested, that you read the lengthy article (which spreads across two pages) in the Ipswich Journal of 13 November 1880, found at The British Newspaper Archive online. It makes for very compelling reading.

The jury, after an absence from Court for five minutes, returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY, and the prisoner was discharged.

On 25 January 1881 the East Suffolk Gazette reported that the licence of the Ship Inn was transferred from James Flowers to William Bell. The census return of that same year shows James Flowers was a boarder (at his brother George's) in Swines Green, Beccles and he was a hay dealer by trade. James Flowers died in 1888, aged 60.

Ship Inn, 2012
Today its a Holiday Cottage

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Suspected Murder at the Ship of Sarah Ann Flowers : Part One

On Tuesday 12 October 1880, Sarah Ann Flowers was found dead on the floor of the tap-room at the Ship Inn, in Bridge Street. Her husband, James Nelson Flowers, was charged with her murder and sent to trial in Norwich the following month, where he was found not guilty.

I have extensive notes on the inquest at Beccles in October 1880, held before C.W. Chaston, Esq., County Coroner, the Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief-Constable and Mr E.B Crowfoot, surgeon and the Magisterial Inquiry before R Dashwood, Esq. (Chairman), WE Crowfoot, Esq., and the Mayor. Mr F.J Dowsett appeared for the prisoner. I will dedicate the next blog post to the Coroner's findings.

Alfred Francis, engine driver, in Samuel Darby's employ, who lived next door to the Ship Inn told the court that he called on James Flowers every morning at six o'clock. On Wednesday 13 October Flowers was up when Francis went by, and called him in, and said, "There's a rather bad job happened here; the poor old girl lay here dead". Francis then went into the tap-room and saw the deceased (Sarah Ann) lying on the floor with her head nearly on the threshold of the cellar door, and her feet towards the window of the tap-room. Francis could not stop to make a close examination but sent his children for a doctor and a policeman. Francis was unable to say whether Flowers and his wife lived comfortably together, but he had seen the deceased the worse for drink many times. Later Francis told the magistrates court that he had occasionally heard deceased and the prisoner (James Flowers) quarelling but he never saw any blows struck.

Alice Francis, aged 11, (daughter of Alfred Francis) said she went to the prisoner's house on Tuesday evening, about five minutes past five, when she saw the deceased lying in the cellar. She was frightened and went and told Hannah Willingham (boarder of the Francis family). Willingham told the court that she found deceased lying on her face in the cellar, she picked her up and sat her in the chair in the bar. When she was sat up in the chair her head fell back and her mouth and eyes were wide open. At the magisterial inquiry, Willingham said the deceased was helplessly drunk, but she managed to walk with her support and totter over the threshold separating the cellar from the bar and set her on a chair. Afterwards they (Hannah Willingham and Alice Francis) went for Mrs Beane (Harriet Beane, charwoman to the deceased for eleven years) because they thought Mrs Flowers was dying but when they got back to the Ship Inn they found the house closed. On tapping at the window, James Flowers opened his bedroom window and said that Mrs Flowers was in bed.

More on the inquiry and surgeon's evidence will be in part two. I did some background research on Sarah Ann and James Flowers to get a feel for who they were before this shocking incident occured that fateful October night.

It took me longer to find out about Sarah Ann because, as it turned out when she married James Flowers she was a widow. I discovered this when I found their marriage entry in the Beccles St Michael's Church parish registers.

Sarah Ann Barrett was christened at St Nicholas Church in Great Yarmouth on 14 May 1814, the daughter of Samuel Barrett and Sarah, late Archer [source:]. Sarah Ann married Benjamin Youell from Beccles on 29 March 1832 at St Nicholas Church. Benjamin was a waterman by trade, residing in Ravensmere. He and Sarah Ann lived in Ravensmere up until his death in 1855. On 18 July 1858 Sarah Ann Youell (widow) married James Nelson Flowers (batchelor) at St Michael's Church.

James Nelson Flowers was baptised on 12 November 1827 at St Michael's Church, Beccles, the son of Richard Flowers and Sarah Susannah, late Algar. This last piece of information piqued my curiousity as I have Algar - from Barnby and Beccles - in my family tree. My 5xg/grandmother was Sarah Algar (not the same Sarah but possibly related, I would need to research the Algar family tree much further). Richard Flowers was from Worlingham, and he was married previously to Eleanor Warnes.

More next time...

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Piper of Beccles

Last week, whilst researching for tweets, I found an entry in the Beccles Almanack for the death of William Piper, "an old inhabitant of Beccles", who died in 1902, aged 84. The East Suffolk Gazette newspaper of 9 December 1902 also printed a small piece about the Piper family. I honestly think William wanted me to find him and write a blog post about his family because not long after, I found a piece about Frederick Piper which I discovered was William's son.

Frederick Piper was reported in the Beccles Weekly newspaper of 9 August 1864 for the Beccles Petty Sessions, chaired by Mayor S. Wilton Rix (see my two-part blog about Samuel WIlton Rix) and attended by Revs R.C. Denny and J.C. Safford:

Frederick PIPER, pipemaker, was charged with trespassing on the Great Eastern Railway, at Beccles, on the 12th July. Benjamin AYDEN of Beccles: on Tuesday the 12th July, I saw Frederick PIPER walking on the Railway, between the Black Boy Street, and the Ingate Road crossings; he was walking in the four foot way in front of the down train from Ipswich to Beccles, about half-past eight. I asked him what he was there for, and requested him to leave. He refused to do so. Defendant had no right to be there.  It is part of my duty to keep people off the line.
Charles FARMAN: I am gate-keeper of the Ingate Street crossing, of the Great Eastern Railway, at Beccles. I have repeatedly cautioned defendant against trespassing on the Railway.
The Mayor said the bench was quite agreed that it was absolutely necessary to put a stop to this most dangerous practice of walking on the railway. The present offence was aggravated by the facts that the accused had often been warned, without effect, was abusive to the officer, and had absented himself when summoned.  Frederick PIPER must pay forthwith a fine of 20 Shillings, with 9 Shillings and 6 Pence costs, or be imprisoned for six weeks. 

Going through the 1841-1911 census returns for the Piper family, I discovered Frederick Piper's parents were William Piper and Mary Ann (nee Woolner). Frederick was found on the 1851 census aged 8, living in Northgate Street with his maternal grandfather George Woolner as well as his parents and two younger brothers.
In 1861 Frederick was a lodger at "The Race Horse Inn" at Ingate Street (James Debbage). There is a possible link with the Copeman family of Beccles here as Frederick was a Pipemaker at this time, and the Copeman's were well-known Pipemakers in Beccles in the first half of the nineteenth century. Another lodger at "The Race Horse Inn" in 1861 was David Copeman (Pipemaker, aged 50).

Image from

In 1871 however, Frederick had moved to Lowestoft - working as a labourer - and was a lodger of John Mummery (who was a Fish Merchant and Publican of "Rose Shamrock & Thistle" in Bevan Street). In 1881 we find Frederick working as a Fruiterer, lodging with Fishmonger Thomas Powell in Grimsby, county Lincolnshire. It would appear that Frederick returned to the Lowestoft area by 1884 where he died, aged 42.

Frederick Piper's father William was not Beccles born but he lived in Beccles all his life and was well known in the town during the later half of the 1800s, along with his father Isaac Piper (not to be confused with the Beccles tailor of the same name). The East Suffolk Gazette of 9 December 1902 reported the following:

DEATH of William Piper, aged 83, son of Isaac Piper an old-time carrier or “tanner” as he was dubbed when making prolonged halts at roadside inns. [William was] rope-maker on north side of a field in Gaol Lane (adjacent to Bowling Green). Removed in 1858 when Station Road was made. Then field in Ravensmere, but had to move when Denmark Road was made. Then took meadow in Caxton Road “where he remained undisturbed until he gave up spinning hemp”. Trade connections: merchants, farmers, wherry owners & yachtsmen”. Familiar face at Beccles Corn Market, attended for more than half a century.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

William Denson : I Shall Not Be Gone Long

Every now and then I come across stories in the history of Beccles which beg to be re-told.  Sometimes these stories relate directly to one of my ancestors and this thrills me no end. Then there are those stories which affect me personally because they are tragic tales; for instance, my step-mother's paternal grandfather who, in 1943, was killed at the crossways of Station Road and Smallgate.

William Denson, aged 63, of 5 Denmark Road, Beccles left his house at around 10am on Saturday 17 July, to visit friends who lived in London Road. Waving goodbye to his wife, Frances Lilian Denson, in his usual good spirits, his last words to her were, "I shall not be gone long."

At approximately 10.30am, in response to a telephone call, PC Smith attended the scene of a traffic accident on the corner of Station Road, near the Public Hall. There he found a three-ton lorry loaded with shingle, which was two feet on the nearside path into Station Road, facing east. Dr Grantham-Hill and Supt CW Chiddel, of Beccles Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade, were rendering first-aid to a male cyclist, who was lying just behind the lorry. The lorry driver, Roger Scott, aged 19, from Wales, was visibly shaken and was sitting in his cabin. Scott later told PC Smith that he had earlier called at a café for a cup of tea and was proceeding down Market Street, his speed as he approached the crossroads in third gear being about 10 mph, sounding his hooter several times. The crossroads appeared to be clear, but as he was almost over them, travelling close to his near side, he suddenly saw a cyclist on his off side.

An ambulance arrived to take William Denson to Beccles Hospital where he later died from injuries incurred by the fatal collision. I can only imagine the impact this would have had on 19 year old, Roger Scott.

Postcard: Station Road, Beccles. Public Hall on the left.
This shows the very corner where William Denson was killed.

William Denson was born in Glemsford in West Suffolk. He served his apprenticeship as Printer Compositor at Sudbury and later worked in Tunbridge Wells before settling in Beccles. He worked for almost 40 years at the Caxton Press. He left a widow, Frances, aged 53, and two sons; Frank and Kenneth. Frank was my step-grandfather.

In 1911, at the time of the census, William Denson was aged 31 and was a boarder at 5, Denmark Road. The house was occupied by widow, Amelia Leon, aged 53. Her two daughters, Florence Amelia and Frances Lilian, were also recorded on the census. Frances, aged 21, was a Bookbinder and worked at the Caxton Press with William. William Denson and Frances Leon were married in 1912 at St Michael's Church in Beccles.

At the time of William Denson's tragic death, World War Two was raging and both of his sons had both joined the Royal Air Force. Frank Denson, who was a Leading Aircraftman at the time, was a monotype operator at the Caxton Press prior to joining up. Both sons would have heard the tragic news of their father's accident and subsequent death via their superiors or through a telegram sent by their mother.

Frank Denson,

This blog post is dedicated, with love, to my step-mother who is celebrating her birthday today. Happy birthday Mum II and I hope you have a fantastic day. xx xx


Sunday, 28 April 2013

Emily Calver : Death By Religious Mania

Every now and then I stumble across a suicide story in the Beccles newspaper transcripts and it truly wrenches at my heart because the report is usually just a name and the circumstances of their untimely deaths, sometimes with blow-by-blow descriptions given. When it's somebody who has drowned themselves in the river Waveney however, I feel even more saddened and I find myself wanting to know more about them. Who were they and where did they come from, before they took their own lives?

The river Waveney, and Beccles

One such person I found was Emily Calver, who drowned herself in 1898. In the Ipswich Journal, on the same page as large advertisements for St Jacob's Oil (Conquers Pain, in large bold letters), Scott's Emulsion cod-liver Oil and Lifebuoy Royal Disinfectant Soap, lies the heading: SUICIDE AT BECCLES : SEQUEL TO RELIGIOUS MANIA.
The report, in two lengthy paragraphs, details the state of mind of Emily Calver in the lead-up to her disappearance and subsequent suicide. Herein is the first paragraph:

"A widow, named Emily Calver, aged 52, committed suicide at Beccles, on Saturday morning [30 April], by drowing herself in the river Waveney. She had often made use of threats, but as she never did more than make a feint of carrying them into execution, no importance was attached to them, except that by order of Dr. [William Taylor] McComb, she was closely watched. She lived in Denmark Road with her two step-sons [Thomas Read Calver and John Brown Calver], and for the last three months a young woman [Edith Jessie Watling] had attended on her as nurse housekeeper. Early on Saturday morning, while the young woman still slept, Mrs Calver made her way to the river by way of the wall on the Norfolk side, and threw herself into the water. It is surmised she would have gladly got out again had she been able to do so, as she would be simply acting on suicidal impulse, the result of a kind of religious mania and liver complaint. Her body was discovered by a banker's clerk; named Youngman, on his way to bathe in the river."

Dr William Taylor McComb

Emily Calver, nee Gower
Emily Gower was born in 1845 in Barford, county Norfolk, and christened on 3 August 1845. She was the daughter of James Henry Gower and Pleasance, nee Baxter. James Henry Gower and Pleasance Baxter were married on 10 October 1831 at Saint Peter, Southgate in Norwich. In the 1851 census returns I found the family living in Chedgrave Street, in Chedgrave. James Henry was cited as "Pauper formerly Shoemaker". The 1861 census reveals they were still living in the Loddon area but Emily, by this time, was living in Blyburgate Street, Beccles. She was an apprentice Dressmaker, living in Blyburgate Street with Sarah Beamish, nurse. Emily's sister Naomi Gower was also living at this address, working as a House Servant. By 1871 however, I find Emily was living in Marylebone, London working as a Servant for Henry Gilbert (Coach Builder).

In 1887 Emily married Frederick Francis Calver, who was a widower (his first wife Hannah, nee Brown passed away in 1885). Frederick Calver was born in Walpole, county Suffolk, in 1836. He came to Beccles between 1851-1861, living in Ravensmere first as a lodger with the Purland family and later, as head of his household with wife Hannah and their children Thomas Read Calver, Frederick William Calver and Florence Hannah Calver. They had at least another three known children after 1871: Miriam Calver, John Brown Calver and Augustus Clement Calver.
The 1861 census cited Frederick Francis Calver as a Tanner; the 1871 census as Fellmonger (dealer in hides or skins, in particular, sheepskins and prepared skins for tanning) and Primitive Methodist Local Preacher. Now there was an interesting contrast in professions if ever I saw one.
When Frederick's first wife Hannah died in 1885, three of their children were still unmarried and living at home: Thomas, Florence and John. Frederick (jnr.) and Augustus were making their living in London as Tailors by the turn of the century. In 1891 the remaining Calver family were living in Denmark Road, Beccles. Then I discovered a tragedy appeared to have struck the family as Emily was cited in the 1891 census return as a widow. How could that be when she had married Frederick only four years earlier? The East Suffolk Gazette newspaper confirmed what I feared. Frederick had died in 1889:
EAST SUFFOLK GAZETTE. 2 July 1889: DEATH of Frederick Calver, aged 52, a class-leader of the Primitive Methodists, and preacher for 25 years. He was a Fellmonger.

At the inquest into Emily Calver's suicide, her brother, Henry Gower, fruiterer of Beccles, explained in some detail the state of mind his sister possessed prior to her death. He reported to the jury that Emily had complained frequently of pains in her head following a bout of influenza three months prior. Henry told the jury that Emily had allegedly told him the pain was so terrible "she could not bear her own existence". The jury returned a verdict of "Suicide by drowning, while of unsound mind".

Monday, 22 April 2013

Beccles in the 1870s

I am fascinated by individual accounts in history of people's first impressions of Beccles. Personal diaries or published articles which tell of making a new life and setting up a home. I came to Beccles as an infant, with my parents, from nearby Bungay and while it didn't mean much to me then, it definitely came to mean a lot more by the time I was nine years old living in Peddars Lane.

I recently came across a published account of somebody who arrived in Beccles in the 1870s and as I came to Beccles in the 1970s, I was curious to compare the changes in one hundred years. There wasn't much that had actually changed but nonetheless, I enjoyed reading her personal observations of Beccles.
Alice Martha Tracy came to Beccles from Croydon, county Surrey in August 1872, after the death of her father, Dowdeswell John Ellis Tracy, in May 1872. According to a source on the Ancestry website he died by drowning, in county Kent, at the age of 35. Alice's mother, Mary Jane (nee Carter) arrived in Beccles soon after with five of her children:
Arthur George : Alice Maud : Ethel Beatrice : Kate Adelaide : John Fingal (who was blind).
(There were two other children Walter Henry who died in infancy and Edith Mary who lived in Cambridge and married in 1886, later moving to Wales).
Here is the account of Alice Maud Tracy's memories of Beccles:

"On 12 August 1872 Miss Tracy and her two younger sisters arrived to stay with her grandmother [Jane Tracy], who had hired a house in London Road now occupied by the Mayor and Mayoress, until their mother arranged their future home.
Peaceful green meadows and cornfields existed where now Alexandra, Denmark, Gosford, Gresham, Kilbrack, St Benedict’s, Grange, Ashman’s and Priory Roads, as well as a large part of Ravensmere, Swine’s Green and Lady’s Meadow. By far the most picturesque entrance to the borough was by way of Bungay Road, where the fine old trees at the end of Ashman’s Wood met another group on the opposite side of Ringsfield Road now occupied by the Catholic Minster, and the row of oaks and elms in the Fauconberge School playground. Now all were gone. A pretty grass slope edging the road and path in front of the two old cottages opposite the former Sir John Leman School and an ancient pump has been removed and a raised path with concrete steps provided instead.

St Mary's Corner, circa 1909

Bungay Road, Fauconberge School through the trees

Love Lane, as St Mary’s Road was called then, was really a Lane. On one side was the playground and part of Homefield and on the other a huge cornfield extending right up to the waterworks and Ringsfield Road. Half way down the lane was a stile and a pretty winding footpath through the cornfield to the entrance to London Road, where there was another secluded style stile that was very well remembered by many who were then young men and girls. Priory Road had completely buried that little pathway. In London Road, the main feature, which struck everyone going up the road, was the two beautiful copper beeches on the left hand side. Unfortunately, they grew so large and darkened to such an extent the houses they fronted that they had to be cut down. Another feature was the tall tower mill, but when its sails were revolving and their shadows were falling on the windows of the houses opposite conditions for the occupants was rather trying.
By demolition Northgate, Blyburgate, Smallgate and Ballygate had lost some of their oldest houses, and the old home of the Crowfoot family in Blyburgate had been purchased and pulled down so that its site could be laid out in building plots. A level crossing and a wooden footbridge led to the Avenue, then recently laid out. This was a well-made gravel roadway across a marsh and had wide borders on either side filled with young trees, flowering shrubs and plants. The Avenue was crossed at the far end by a wooden bridge over a wide dyke on which several swans and sometimes cygnets swam about waiting to be fed with bread by the children. This was a delightful walk to the Common, but its maintenance apparently being considered an expense to the town it grew shabby and neglected. Soon the flowerbeds disappeared altogether and the whole stretch was gravelled

The Avenue, Beccles

The river provided great sport during the winter, for when there was an extra high tide and the water could not get away quickly enough under the low bridge the marshes were flooded. When this water froze there were acres of ice for skating. Sometimes the frost lasted for six weeks, and in the middle of the day the town would be almost deserted. Everyone who could get away, flocked down to the ice and learned to skate in no time. Some years they skated to Bungay or Oulton Broad. One winter a Carnival was held on the ice on the river, a donkey and cart going up and down selling oranges and buns and hot potatoes roasted on a stove..."

Alice Martha Tracy's mother Mary Jane died at home in Exchange Square, Beccles of Apoplexy which took her life within three hours of the onset of symptoms. Her death was reported in the Beccles Paper of 14 February 1882. It stated that "she was the sister-in-law to the Rector [F.F. Tracy] and she leaves six children, one of whom is blind". At almost the same time, her brother-in-law F.F. (Frederick Francis) Tracy resigned as Rector of Beccles and the position was taken over by Rev. John Rowsell of Beverley, county Yorkshire.
Alice Tracy was for twenty years a Secretary of the Beccles Soldiers' and Sailors' Families' Association and since its formation had helped to collect over £12,000. She retired from her position as Secretary in December 1936 and it was reported in the Beccles & Bungay Newspaper. Alice Maud Tracy died in 1960 at St Audrys Hospital in Melton, county Suffolk (St Audry's was a psychiatric hospital, formerly an asylum and workhouse. More information about St Audry's can be found here).

Friday, 19 April 2013

Samuel Wilton Rix : Part Two

Part two is dedicated to Samuel Wilton Rix's own description of his arrival to Beccles in 1831. Part of this detailed account was published in the East Suffolk Gazette on the 22 March 1881 to commemorate his fiftieth year in Beccles. The following is edited extracts from that publication:

I travelled outside the "Star" Coach, travelling the whole of that 23rd of March 1831 through blinding dust and cold rain. A ninepenny letter was my precursor; penny postage and electric telegrams being then unknown. The "Yarmouth Star" passed through Beccles, on its upward journey, every morning at a quarter past six, giving notice of its approach by a clanging horn and the thunder of heavy wheels upon the pavement. There was also the "Telegraph" night mail, through Wangford to London; the "Accommodation" with its unicorn team, kept up a sort of intercourse with West Suffolk.
The principal streets of the town were then almost all paved with flints, every cart that passed denying the slanderous charge of undue quietness. In the dark evenings a few oil lamps, fixed to the houses, spread such dim light as emanated from the Corporation of those times. Eastward from the New Market was "Blower’s Lane" now Market Street, but not half its present width; and on its left side the gloomy looking house in which the poet [George] Crabbe had visited, and in which some of his wife’s relatives still lived. Further on, past the Assembly Room, the view of what is now the approach to the Railway Station, was blocked by the line of Newgate Street. On the site of the Council-room [now the Glennie School of Dancing] was the ancient timbered "Feoffment Chamber" where Justices justice was long administered. This chamber was used at one time for the Fauconberge School ...

There was no direct access in that direction to the Common; its approaches being by the dirty lane through Ravensmere, or by the equally circuitous Common Lane on the south. The site of the Railway Station was a meadow ... More pastures, with patches of osier ground, and parted by peaty ditches or crooked fences ...
The south side of Peddar’s Lane was then a meadow; and Frederick’s Place and St George’s-terrace were undistinguished among broad acres. The old wooden Pound of the Manor was standing in that direction.

The interior of the Parish Church, as I saw it on my first Sunday in Beccles, was in a transition state between rush-stren floors and the restoration of 1859.
The organ at the west end, on a gallery shutting out the finest window in the church, with a standing place underneath for the parish fire engines; high unsightly pews; a vast brass chandelier; the pulpit in the centre of the nave; the vestry at the east end, crested by wooden urns, with gilded imitation of flames, in commemoration, it was said, of the great fire of 1586. A gallery built by a former Rector with a worthy desire to provide more sittings, but with sad disregard of architectural taste. I think there was no evening service ... A bell in the steeple was tolled every morning at five o’clock to call up the artisans to their work, and again at eight in the evening, the latter probably a vestige of the Norman curfew.
The Independent Church rebuilt in 1812, retained its old front, was somewhat smaller than at present. It was plain and respectable, with sanded aisles and painted pews. There were three services on Sunday, of which the afternoon was the most important. The Baptist Meeting House was a still humbler building. The Methodist Chapel was hidden behind houses on the east side of Northgate.
Primitive Methodism ... had no local habitation. The Friends though nearly extinct held occasionally ... a meeting for speaking, of which notice was usually given by handbills. ...
It was not until 1835 that the present Public Library was established [this was a different library - not the County Library].
Little was heard in those days of choirs and choral societies and concerts. The stirring drum and fife had died away with the fresh memories of Waterloo ... Instead of cheerful military bands, the drowsy burgesses had to be content with a stray hand organ on the rare visit of a band of French-horn.

Beccles Church by Henry Davy (1793-1865)

Some public amusements periodically relieved the monotony; but in now vanished forms. The Fair at Whitsuntide, the Races in the autumn and the temporary opening of Fisher’s Theatre. They have been succeeded by athletic sports, reading rooms, penny readings and musical entertainments. The general habits of society, among all classes, leaned far less towards abstemiousness than at present. ...and the free outpourings of the bottle.
A few days after I came to Beccles a great inauguration dinner was given by the newly chosen Portreeve for 200 or more of the inhabitants and others. Many were the speeches and mighty the feasting. But I think it was a year or two later that a few choice spirits actually spun out a Portreeve’s feast from Thursday evening to Saturday morning.

East Suffolk Gazette 1 January 1895:

OBITUARY: S.W Rix, who practised for many years as a solicitor in Beccles, and took an active part in the government of the borough until increasing year led to his retirement. He died on 8th of August 1894, aged 89. A man of literary and antiquarian  tastes, he collected an exceedingly valuable library, including many choice archaeological and topographical works, and a local collection of 26 volumes containing the materials for a fuller history of the town than has previously appeared. The collection was purchased by Dr Aldis Wright, and generously handed over to the safe custody of the Corporation for the general use of the inhabitants.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Samuel Wilton Rix : Part One

Beccles historians might be familiar with the Rix Collection which is held at the Lowestoft Record Office. I would love to be able to see it for myself one day but in the mean time I have to content myself with my local history books for information about his life and utilise the vast amount of newspaper transcriptions on Beccles history by David Lindley.

So what is the Rix Collection? First, allow me to introduce the man behind the name. Samuel Wilton Rix was born 15 February 1806 in Diss, county Norfolk and baptised 27 May 1808 at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Diss. He was the son of John Rix and Mary Parker. Samuel married Eliza Charlotte Shelly 9 July 1833 at St Nicholas Church in Great Yarmouth (her birthplace).
By this time Samuel had already established himself in Beccles, having moved from Diss in 1831, and living for the most part in Saltgate Street. He quickly made a name for himself as Attorney & Solicitor, going into partnership with Richard Bohun. What makes Samuel Wilton Rix so remarkable to historians was that he was a classical scholar and an antiquarian. He took a keen interest in the history of Beccles and would go on to publish many books and collect material on Beccles history - from newspaper clippings to legal documents and catalogues. He scrupulously kept local history accounts covering the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, and all of this was written in his own handwriting. He was elected to the Town Council in 1836, became alderman and filled the office of Mayor from 1863-65.
Samuel gave many lectures during his life time as well. For example, the Norwich Mercury newspaper of 15 February 1859 reported: LECTURE IN DISS: by S.W. Rix (who was a native of Diss) to the Mutual Improvement Society: "Funeral Customs of All Ages".
Beccles Weekly News of 3 December 1861: LECTURE by S.W. Rix "Beccles Men Of Other Days" Charge 6d in Aid of the British Schools.
Beccles Weekly News of 20 December 1862: LECTURE given by S. Wilton Rix on Funeral Customs in the Bible for British Schools Funds.
In his role as Mayor he also got things done for the benefit of Beccles and its townsfolk:
Beccles Weekly News of 23 August 1864: COUNCIL: Mayor S.W. Rix said Great Eastern Railway had agreed to make a Bridge across the Line within six months. About 70 trains passed through Beccles daily.

Smallgate, 1950. The houses, seen on the right, was
where the Rix family lived during the 1800s
Saltgate, 2013. Still largely unchanged and still very
appealing to passersby.

Most importantly for this blog post, is the family man that Samuel Rix was. He and his wife had nine children, two of whom died in infancy:
Edith Shelly Rix : John Shelly Rix* (died 1836) : Frederic Shelly Rix : Mary Wilton Rix (died 1838) : Edward Wilton Rix : Richard Avery Rix : Grace Wilton Rix : Francis Meadows Rix : Mary Elizabeth Rix
*John Shelly Rix's death was reported in the Ipswich Journal on 6 February 1836 thus: DIED: Infant son of S.W. Rix.

In 'A Suffolk Town in Mid-Victorian England: Beccles in the 1860's' E.A. Goodwyn writes: "Rix was a man of very strong family feeling". This was made evident when his son Francis Meadows Rix died, after an illness of many months in 1869, at the tender age of 18. Samuel Rix wrote an account of his son's life - his childhood, his school years, and the agony of watching as his son lay bed-ridden in his final months. Goodwyn's book goes on to record Samuel's reponse: "Seeing me give way to the weakness which I wished to repress in him, [Francis] said, 'No--dear papa, do not cry: do not grieve about me...".
Then, the following year his first-born Edith Shelly Rix, died aged 36. Two years following, his wife Eliza died (aged 63) and Rix retired from public life, giving over many of his duties and positions to his son Frederick Shelly Rix. In 1879 he retired from his profession as a Solicitor and dedicated his time to compiling the massive record of local history which now bears his name.

Francis Meadows Rix, 1867

Next time: A personal account of Samuel Wilton Rix's arrival in Beccles and his newspaer obituary.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Susannah Pipe : From Riches to Rags

I would bet that everyone has at least one childhood memory of a person in their neighbourhood who was "strange' or considered "different". I remember seeing a man in Beccles who had a club foot and he frightened me no end with his big, clumpy black boot. In the Images of England book "Bungay To Beccles" (in two volumes) by Terry and Chris Reeve, there are some priceless photographs and images of Beccles past, and each page turned brings its former story to life. One particular image which has stuck with me is the one on page 71 of Volume One.

© Terry & Chris Reeve, 1998
The caption alongside the photograph reads:
"Susan Pipe, a well known character seen around Beccles in the early 1900s, selling her wares in all areas of the community. She was known to the younger members of the community as the ragged "bag lady".

It wasn't until some years later that I came across a newspaper article in the East Suffolk Gazette dated 16 January 1917, regarding Susannah Pipe's death which didn't go un-noticed among the townsfolk of Beccles:

DEATH OF SUSANNAH PIPE: Aged 47, at her house in 11 St George's Road, Beccles. There was no bed, only a few rags in her bedroom, with a coverlet too small to cover her so she must have suffered much from the cold. She was a grand-daughter of the late James Mullett, master tailor, and member of the Town Council. On the death of her mother she succeeded to a lie interest in her grandfather's estate. She owned her own house and the neighbouring house. William Chatters, engine driver at the Castle Mills had lived next door to her for four years.
Unfortunately she gave way to intemperate habits, and her husband separated from her. She got rid of practically all of her furniture to satisfy her craving for drink. She was seen picking up pieces of paper and sticks in the street to get a little warmth in the cold weather. She seemed very ill of late, and lack of nourishment and exposure contributed to her death.

Once again I felt the need to investigate Susannah's life further and this is what I managed to uncover. The 1911 census return records her as having been married for seventeen years but she was living alone at 11 St George's Road. There were no children and Susannah had no employment. In the column which states the number of rooms she occupied, it has a number one. This would have certainly meant that Susannah lived at or below the poverty line, having one room in which to sleep, cook, and wash.
According to the 1911 census, Susannah was born about 1869 in Rushmere, Suffolk. Whilst the latter was true, the former - her age - was not. Susannah was the daughter of John Newson and Sarah, nee Mullett, born in 1859. Searching the St Michael's Church Parish Register Extracts CD rom I was quickly able to locate her marriage record. Susannah Newson married Royal Pipe (yes, his name was Royal) on 4 February 1894. Her age was recorded as 32 and Royal's as 22. It is not known exactly how long they lived as a married couple as the 1901 census return shows that Susannah's husband Royal Pipe was living at home with his father James Pipe in Wash Lane, Beccles. His status was "married" so where was Susannah? She was found living alone at St George's Road, aged 37, status as married, and "living on own means".

After a lot of digging further back in time, I eventually found Susannah Newson in the 1891 census returns as living in St George's Road, Beccles, with her mother Susannah Newson, a widow. Susannah was aged 27 and her widowed mother, 57 (Susannah died the following year, aged 59). Susannah Newson, nee Mullett was born abt 1834 in Marylebone, London. She married John Newson at St Michael's Church in Beccles on 25 July 1854. It states in the record:
John Newson bachelor, farmer, of Rushmere.
Susanna Mullett, spinster, no occupation, of this parish
In 1861 John Newson and his wife and family were living in Rushmere and John was recorded as a farmer of 86 acres. What surprised me was there was also a Susannah Newson recorded in the household, aged 1. It transpired that Susannah claimed that she was 5-10 years younger than she actually was.
Susannah's maternal grandfather was James Mullett. He lived in Beccles almost his whole life, and lived in Ballygate Street until his retirement in 1880. He was a renowned Tailor and Council member in the town. In May 1880 the East Suffolk Gazette reported:
RETIREMENT: James Mullett, Ballygate, tailoring, drapery and hat establishment retiring after 40 years. Business taken over by WG Cross.
If we go back to the 1881 census return we indeed find Susannah (widow) at home with her parents James and Sarah Mullett at St George's Road (then written as St Georges Place). However, I haven't been able to locate where Susannah (the daughter) was. Previous census returns indicate that James Mullett travelled frequently to London, perhaps to purchase the latest fabrics and milinery necessary to keep up with fashion trends. James Mullett died in 1890 and left a substantial sum of money in his will. One of his executors was Edward Charles Darby, Timber Merchant of Beccles. The house at St George's Road was left to his widowed daughter Susannah, who then left it to her daughter Susannah (Pipe).

St George's Road, Beccles
Mitula Property Website

When Royal Pipe left Susannah he went back to his father's home in Wash Lane but by 1911 he was living in Knights Yard, in Ravensmere and was still a Farm Labourer. He was recorded in the 1911 census return as married and his home had three rooms. With him though was Elizabeth Gosling, aged 50, widow, who was Royal's housekeeper and a third person, a lodger by the name of Emily Stare who worked at a Printing Office (possibly Clowes). When his estranged wife Susannah Pipe died in 1917, Royal married his housekeeper Elizabeth Gosling later that same year. He died in 1944.