As I write this the Covid noose is tightening again as the number of cases rises, seemingly inexorably. We are really comfortable, hiding in our new house and, honestly, I am grateful for the prolonged opportunities to tidy the garage, the loft and the garden. The big downsides are the inability to see our children, the grandchildren and all our friends from Norfolk. Readers, we miss all of you greatly and it is hard not to be depressed about it. Zoom, Skype and the like do not really “do it for us”. Another downside to our seclude existence is the lack of things to write about in these monthly articles. However, this month, there are two topics which, in normal time, might seem insignificant but, in these times, seem worth mentioning, so here goes!
On the whole, Management and I like to watch the same television programmes but, when our tastes diverge, we do have two sitting rooms, one large and the other a “snug” intended for the kids. Both have televisions so we can separate at times of crisis, like “East Enders”.
Anyway, we both quite like “Police Interceptors” on channel 5. Big hairy policemen chase weedy, drug fuelled toe rags who drive uninsured, untaxed or stolen cars at horrendous speeds until they escape the police BMWs, crash or get caught. Police helicopters, dogs and lot of yellow BMWs are present. Quite often, the police use a stinger – a metal sheet containing spikes which puncture tyres. The police throw it across the road in front of the toe rag’s vehicle and, all four tyres having been punctured, the car grinds to a halt and, the baddies run away and the police chase begins.
One access to our road is from a very fast dual carriageway. Coming from Hagley High Street, we go around a roundabout, travel half a mile along the dual carriageway and then take a right hand slip road before crossing the oncoming lane of traffic through a gap in the central reservation. Very dodgy and the site of frequent accidents. One day last week, as we set off along the dual carriageway, I passed a parked transit minibus. Hidden behind it were about 8 hairy policemen in reflective jackets and, on the ground by the van was a stinger, ready to be used. Great excitement! We crossed the carriage way into our road and pulled up in an old gateway, well out of the way. We then watched the proceedings from the safety of the nearby grass verge. Lots of police activity, marked cars, motor cycles, etc. We stood and waited. Suddenly, a black BMW came screaming along the dual carriageway with a high speed marked police Beamer on its tail, blues and twos in full mode. A result! We waited for the stinger to be deployed, as they say, but nothing much seemed to happen. The black BMW slowed down, indicated right , crossed the central reservation and headed back towards the roundabout. The marked BMW turned off his blue and twos and followed. The black BMW was an unmarked police car with two reflective policemen in it and the marked BMW had one policeman driving it. Obviously, they were killing time while the villain’s car approached. We stood there in the cold, desperate to see the villain caught. Eight times, the above high speed chase was repeated and the police stared to grin at us as they went around. Eventually, the police all got in the minibus and pushed off. Obviously, the villain had taken another route. Eventually, the marked police car drove up to our vantage point and the officer got out and approached us. Head office terrified he was going to reprimand us! He looked amused, thanked us for watching and explained (Yes, you have guessed it) that it was a training exercise to teach new officers how to use a Stinger. The black police beamer was playing the villain and our friend in the marked car had been chasing him. The trick is for the police to deploy the stinger and then whip it out of the way before the chase vehicle hits it. We had a lovely chat with the officer and he had done a great public relations job.
We treated ourselves to a new coffee machine. Made by Magimix, the Vertuo Next had good reviews. It arrived, I took it out of the box and looked at the instruction book. The first page described the procedure to toggle Bluetooth/Wi-Fo on/off. It then told me how to pair the Bluetooth in the coffee machine with my smartphone or tablet. Well, I don’t much care what colour teeth it has and my smartphone, a5S, won’t even drive the NHS Covid app soI moved on. I have no desire to operate my coffee machine from my car or my bedroom.
After that, the instructions were more straightforward. To flush the machine before use, I had to turn the machine on and run it without a coffee pod. Easy. Just press the button on top of the machine. The button will flash and, when the machine is ready, the light will be constant and ready to make coffee. No matter how often I tried, the light never became constant. After about an hour, I was about to telephone the manufacturer for help when I discovered in the very small print that the machine is delivered with Bluetooth switched on, so it will only work when paired with a smartphone or tablet.. WOT??! To turn off Bluetooth, I had to unplug the machine and wait ten seconds.Then, I had to place the handle in the unlocked position, press and hold the on/off button and plug the machine in again while keeping the button depressed. I did all this and the machine worked straight away, just by pressing the button on top. Unfortunately, in this switched off mode, I am unable to operate the machine from my bedroom, the car, Hong Kong or anywhere else. From switching the machine on to drinking coffee takes about 20 seconds so why on earth would I want to operate it remotely from my ‘phone? More to the point, why don’t they deliver the machine with Bluetooth off and the option to turn it on if you are so minded?
A friend wrote this: I would like to share a personal experience I had about drinking and driving. This might save you the cost and embarrassment of being arrested for DWI. As you know, people have been known to have unexpected brushes with the authorities from time to time, often on the way home after a “social session” with family or friends. Well recently, it happened to me. I was out for the night to a party and had more than several margaritas coupled with a bottle of rather lovely red wine. It was held at a great Italian restaurant. Although relaxed, I still had the common sense to know I was slightly over the limit. That’s when I did something I’ve never done before… I took a taxi home. On the way home there was a police roadblock, but since it was a taxi they waved it past and I arrived home safely without incident. These roadblocks can be anywhere and I realized how lucky I was to have chosen to take a taxi. The real surprise to me was that I had never driven a taxi before. Not sure where I got it, and now that it’s in my garage I don’t know what to do with it. If you want to borrow it, give me a call.

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Gardening November

Late autumn is a quiet time in the garden, with short, cold days and long, often frosty, nights. Most plants are dormant at this time of year and require very little attention, however there are still tasks to do and there is little time to sit around doing nothing. You may need to force yourself outside, but once you do your mood will instantly lift. Here is the list of ‘most urgent’ tasks this month.
• Net Brassicas and Gooseberries to prevent damage from birds
• Clean slippery paths and driveways
• Place grease bands around fruit trees to protect them from winter moths.
• Continue to clear leaves from paths and lawns.
• Place tree guards on young trees and woody shrubs to prevent damage from nibbling by Rabbits, deer or squirrels.
• Lift Plant Pots Off The Ground: It’s impossible to tell how much rain we’ll see over winter, but if there is lots your plant pots could end up waterlogged.
• Sow Now: Sow pots of herbs in a heated greenhouse or on a bright windowsill indoors. Try basil, dill, chives and parsley. Direct sow outdoors Broad Beans and hardy peas.
• Plant Now: Plant tulip bulbs now – later than most bulbs, but a late planting may help reduce problems with the disease tulip fire.
• Prune Now: Vigorous rose bushes and shrubs such as lavatera and buddleia and be pruned by a third to prevent damage from wind rock. A clean cut is advisable, but more accurate pruning can follow on the other side of winter when the sap is rising.
Feature: Too good to let go?
Some plants are not hardy enough to survive the winter outside and need frost protection. Overwintering plants can be a good way to save money and to have a more established plant for next spring. The chances are your space to store plants inside is limited, so you will have to decide what’s worth keeping and how you will care for them. Here’s a few helpful tips:
• Keep only healthy plants. If something has been struggling all summer under the best of conditions, it is not going to improve indoors.
• Never bring in a plant with pests or disease.
• Give ‘dibs’ to your favourite plants, the ones you’ve been coddling for years, things you’ve trained into a standard, or your sentimental favourites.
• If the plant would look good as a house plant, bring it in and use it as one (coleus and impatiens are good examples)
• Be realistic about space and available light.
Personally, I don’t keep annuals, their entire life mission is to produce seed to ensure future generations. They have pretty flowers to attract insects so that it can be pollinated and we dead-head all summer long to force the plant into producing more flowers to set seed. Annuals are in-expensive, easy to grow from seed, and by changing them each year you can experiment with new plants and colour schemes without making a long-term commitment.
Tender perennials such as pelargoniums (tender geraniums), heliotropes and fuchsias are best moved to a frost-free greenhouse, porch or conservatory. I don’t keep ‘bedding geraniums’ instead I reserve the space for more expensive scented and regal pelargoniums. As we live in a relatively mild part of the country, I don’t recommend lifting Dahlias or Cannas. Leave them in-situ and protect them with a good mulch of compost or leaf mould. Begonia corms are best lifted and stored dried.
For those growing exotic plants outside, protect the “hardy” bananas (Musa basjoo), Palms and tree ferns by wrapping their trunks and crowns in straw and use an outer layer of garden fleece or hessian. Don’t use bubble wrap as the plants sweat, causing fungal issues. I’m a lazy gardener, my Bananas are grown in large pots which I site just outside
Other plants are hardier, but dislike exposed sites, or winter wet and therefore require some protection these include Lemons & citrus, Olive, Salvia, Agapanthus and French Lavenders. Winter wet isn’t usually too much of an issue in dry East Anglia, simply raise your pots to ensure they drain.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk


I often wonder who invented all the words we use. Most have been about for a long time although new ones are continually being added. When Covid kicked off I wondered if ‘furlough’ was one of these but it was in my 1998 ‘Little Oxford’. At least I know what it means now! The easiest meanings to trace are place names which, thanks to past invaders, are derived from Celtic, Latin, Anglos Saxon and French languages. Many are references to hills, rivers, fortresses, forest clearings, animals and land ownership. First recorded in Old English (mid7th century) over time many have become distorted through being mispronounced and wrongly spelt.
There are many simple historical suffixes which appear in place names today. For instance ‘ton’ and ‘tun’ once meant a farm or a hamlet, ‘ham’ meant a settlement, village or estate, ‘ly’ or ‘ley’ a wood or a clearing, ‘down’ came from the Celtic ‘dun’ meaning hill or hill fort, ‘stow’ was a place or meeting place, wic was a farm or dairy farm, ‘wella’ was a spring, ‘bury’ was a fort and ‘ford’ was where a river could be easily crossed. Often these were added to the names of local geological features such as rivers. An excellent example is the ancient Norfolk town of Thetford standing on the river Thet. Activity has been known in the area since Neolithic times and, as a crossing point of the river, it was very important in Roman times. By the time of the Norman Conquest Thetford had become the sixth biggest town in the kingdom.
Kings Lynn was once called Bishops Lynn when, in 1101, Bishop Herbert de Losinga of Thetford first developed the town. It became Kings Lynn in the 16th century. The word ‘lynn’ means pool and it’s thought it referred to a tidal pool on the Ouse.
Closer to home, Downham means a settlement on a hill, it has a commanding view over the Fens. In Saxon times it became Downham Market and is one of Norfolk’s oldest market towns. The interpretation of Swaffham is the settlement of the Swabians. It was valued highly in the Domesday Book of 1086 and by the 14th and 15th century was prospering from the sheep and wool industry.
Barton Bendish was recorded as Bertuna. Its modern name is derived from ‘bere-tun’ meaning a grain farm, ‘binnan’ = within and ‘dic’ = a ditch. The ditch referred to is the Devil’s Dyke, a linear earthwork stretching between Barton and Beachamwell and possibly dating to the early Saxon period. Boughton was recorded as Buchetuna meaning a settlement belonging to Bucca. Beachamwell was recorded as Hekeswella and originated as ‘the spring at Bicca’s homestead’. Originally it was two distinct settlements – Bitcham and Wella.
Wereham was recorded as Wigreham. Regarding the prefix, it’s thought perhaps the old name for the River Wissey was Wigor or Vigora, which was changed to Were as in Wereham.
It’s awesome that we all live in places where people were going about their daily business more than a thousand years ago.

The fashionable world of the Villebois family and the conditions of their poor. Jim McNeill, Stoke Ferr

The Parish of Marham was once famed for its cherry and walnut orchards. The orchards were felled for use by gun manufactures during the Napoleonic wars, and it was around this time that Marham came under the lordship of the Villebois family (1). The two Henry Villebois’, father and son, had their country seat at Marham House: built by Henry senior (1777-1847) with the fabulous wealth he obtained as a major shareholder in London’s Truman brewery. Henry senior was the great-grandson of William Villebois, a French dance teacher who married one of his pupils. The pupil was Francis Truman, the grand-daughter of Sir Benjamin Truman and the founder of Truman’s Brewery. When Sir Benjamin died, he left the bulk of his estates worth £330,000 (the equivalent today of some £460million) to John & William Truman Villebois who then became majority shareholders. These shares remained in possession of the males of the family until the death of Henry Villebois junior in 1886 (2).
Each generation of the Villebois family showed little interest in their vast brewery empire. Their primary passion was hunting during the winter months followed by spending summers in their mansion houses in Belgravia or Gloucestershire.
It was hunting for game which, in 1803, first brought Henry Villebois senior to our region when he began purchasing recently enclosed lands at Marham where he installed his fox and stag hounds. Each season his fox hounds met in various local villages; Stoke Ferry, Methwold, Barton Bendish, Fincham, Gooderstone, etc., as well as on the Marham estate. Early newspaper notices record: “FASHIONABLE DEPARTURES…Mr. and Mrs. Henry Villebois for Marham, near Stoke Ferry, in Norfolk…”; and “HUNTING APPOINTMENTS…Mr. H. Villebois’s harriers, on Monday, at Oxburgh [sic]; Wednesday, Stoke Ferry Field ; Saturday, at the Town Barn, Swaffham, at eleven.”
After a day’s hunting there were sumptuous feasts with fine wines. Lavish Hunt Dinners and stylish Balls were held at Marham, Swaffham, King’s Lynn, etc. One feast is recorded for 1829; “Mr. H. Villebois’s hunt dinner took place…at the Crown Inn, Stoke Ferry; a large party attended, and after a number of loyal toasts and hunting songs, the gentlemen returned home thoroughly gratified”. As well as fox and stag hunting, the Villebois’ also organised hare coursing and the mass shooting of game birds.
The hunt-obsessed philanderer, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), became close friends with Henry junior and this Henry went on to run the Sandringham Hunt (3), spending summers sailing his luxury yacht (part of the Royal Yacht Squadron) on the Solent. Following the death of his father in 1846, he sold all the livestock and farming equipment in the Marham area and leased off his farms. But his lack of interest in farming did not prohibit him from becoming President of the Norfolk Agricultural Association in 1880!
As well being local magistriates, the two Henry’s were, in turn, the High Sherrif, and the Deputy Leiutennant of Norfolk. Henry junior was an active member of the Conservative Party’s ‘one nation’ Primrose League. He was also a Freemason and was married to Maria, the eldest daughter of the Tory MP, William Bagge of Stradsett Hall (3).
Memorials and contemporary newspapers and journals record the two Henry’s in glowing terms such as, “the perfect model of English gentlemen”, “genial manners and kind-hearted”, “endeared to all classes of society from the Royal to the humblest cottager”. But is that wholly true? And, what happened to those common folk who suffered from the enclosure of their common lands and the imposition of the Game Laws?
In 1869, influential landowners in and around Marham moved to arbitarily deprive the poor of their rights to “cut turves for fuel and of agisment (5) on fens and marshes” on Marham Fen. This Fen was typical of ‘marginal land’ that had escaped enclosure and cultivation to be used instead to provide meger resources for the poor. The landowners’ scheme was that the ‘owners’ of the newly enclosed Fen land were to pay an annual rent and this rent money to be dispursed amongst the poor of Marham. The plan was supported by The Poor’s Allotment, a charity run by the local church wardens along with Henry Villebois, Lord of the Manors of Oldhall, West Acre and Marham, and Sir Thomas Hare, Lord of the Manors of Newhall & Shoudham. Practicly every poor resident signed a petition against the plan. When there was an attempt to mark out the Fen lands for enclosure, two hundred females ‘armed’ with frying pans and tin-boilers confronted the local constabulary and a number of officials who had to stop their work. Twenty-eight of these women were subsiquently charged with affray and taken before the Magistraits at Downham. Eventually, the strenth of local feeling forced Henry Villebois junior to attend a meeting to hear the objections of the poor to the landowners’ attempt to “make Marham one of the poorest Parishes in Norfolk”. As a result, an enquiry was established and twenty acres of land was set aside for the taking of turves, and 40-50 acres was set aside for garden allotments. The land in question is now owned by the Marham Poor’s Trust.
Here are names of just some local males punished for crimes on Villebois property and their hunting grounds: Robert Carter, Watt Mason, William Goddard, George Hobbs; charged with shooting at Villebois gamekeepers, sentenced to transportation for life; John Boughen charged with stealing a Peck of potatoes value 8d, property of Henry Villebois, seven days imprisonment; Richard Hitchings, John Hitchings, Ruben Oats, and William Martis, four little boys, charged by a Villebois’s gamekeeer with poaching for rabbits, each fined 3s.6d; James Hard, 19, stealing a bridle belonging to Henry Villebois, gaoled for one month; Edward Hudson, labourer, of Narborough, charged by a Villebois’ gamekeeper of using traps to take game, fined 6s. and 14s. costs; two Villebois gamekeepers involved in an armed struggle with George Ripper, William Newton and Robert Burton, all of Swaffham, who were night poaching at “The Contract”, near Narborough, sentence unknown; Robert Burton of Swaffham, charged by a Villebois gamekeeper of night poaching at Narborough, two months prison; Robert Brown of Narborough, charged by a Villebois gamekeeper of using a snare to take and kill game, fined 18s. and 12s. costs; Henry Mason, labourer, and Walter Blye, dealer, both of Fincham, charged by a Villebois gamekeeper of poaching near ‘Devils Ditch’, each fined £1 and 11s costs; John Watkins and Edward Shafto, charged by a Villebois gamekeeper with stealing six pheasants eggs, each fined 5s. for every egg and 10s. 6d. costs; making £2.0s.6d each.
End Notes of interest: In the 1930s, most of Marham House was demolished, re-built using original materials in 1937, fully refurbished c.2005. Today within Marham there are nods to the past with a Villebois Road as well as a Walnut Walk and a Cherry Close. A little known fact: the father of Ann Lee of Shouldham Thorpe was the sign-writing artist for many of Truman Brewery’s pub signs.
(1) See also my article referring to the Villebois family in the Village Pump, October 2020, 19th Century Game Laws; complicated and challenging
(2) When Henry Villebois junior died, Truman’s brewery, with operations in London, East England, and Burton-on-Trent, ceased to be family-owned.
(3) Originally there were no foxes at Sandringham, they had to be introduced and ‘preserved’ to allow fox hunting to take place.
(4) Sir William Bagge (1810 – 1880) was a Conservative MP for West Norfolk in 1837-57 and 1865-80.
(5) Agistment, is the right to take cattle to graze.