Worthy Pioneers’

This is how those living and working in the fruit farm colony at Methwold were referred to in an article that appeared in ‘the independent vegetarian’ in 1891. In last month’s piece, I looked at the birth and development of this bold experiment into alternative living, now I would like to focus a little more on the people or pioneers, who chose to take up the challenge and to live and work within the colony over the course of its existence and beyond. I hope to paint a picture of these unique individuals who came from a variety of backgrounds and all parts of the country and further afield, in order to make their home and living there.
The Fruit farm colony at Brookeville represented an earnest attempt to find a way of living in which individuals and families could support themselves by the production of food from their own smallholdings. The men who first populated the fruit farm colony, must have possessed a certain pioneering spirit and believed that a more natural and equitable way of life was a possibility. The level of commitment required to undertake this venture cannot be underestimated. Firstly, they would need to find the money to purchase their piece of uncultivated land. They would then need to build a house, plant and nurture an orchard. This endeavour would be expected to take place whilst still working six and a half days week in London until such a time as their plots became viable and they were able to leave the smoky Victorian city behind and start their new lives in a small corner of rural west Norfolk.
The one constant thread that runs through the lifespan of the colony was presence of the man who’s vision it was that brought the project into being. Robert King Goodrich. He was both the initiator of this venture and the driving force throughout its existence. The colony, as an entity, was officially wound up in 1913 and Goodrich died in 1917. This didn’t mean however that the residents of Brookville ceased their activities. As the 1939 Census shows, there were still a few long term residents listed as fruit and poultry farmers, Lillian Goodrich, Robert’s daughter being one of them.
From the1891 Census returns, the earliest that makes reference to ‘The vegetarian colony’, Goodrich and his family were playing host to four horticultural students. There were probably many more over the years as those of a like mind were encouraged to visit and make a study of the methods employed. Of the four students listed at the time, only one went on to become a lifelong market gardener. Other residents and the earliest of the pioneers listed at this time were G Fisher, a fruit farmer, James Whitnell, a carpenter and William Arnold, a Hackney Carter. The number of colonists listed on this census appears small compared to the number of occupied plots listed on a map of the colony at the time. The reason for this discrepancy is that many of the colonists would have still been living and working elsewhere, only returning to their plots at the weekend.
By the time of the 1901 Census, the colony was well established and was now referred to as ‘The fruit farm colony’. Of the occupations listed, twelve of the residents were referring to themselves as fruit growers, smallholders or gardeners. Two were involved with the egg trade but there were also a variety of other trades represented, which would have been necessary to the evolution of the colony such as builders, carpenters, iron mongers and printers.
By 1911, the population had grown further still. Seventeen households were involved with smallholding in some respect and six directly working in the poultry and egg trade. Aside from Robert King Goodrich and his family, very few of the residents listed on the 1901 Census were still residing at the colony in 1911. This is perhaps not surprising given the nature of this experimental community. However, the growth and development of the colony did mean that there were a variety of other occupations being carried out. By 1911 the population had increased from twenty two households to thirty three. As well as the ‘Direct supply’ business, on which the colony was founded, they had a Post Office and shop, a print works and a jam factory and a workshop producing rustic furniture. A number of people were also listed as retired or were living on their own means.
The residents, from the very start were from a variety of backgrounds and places of birth. Virtually every English county is represented in the 1911 Census along with a few from further afield with families from Scotland and Wales. There was also a naturalized British citizen, Herman Friuend, who was born in Prussia. A retired army officer, Clement George Turner Rooke, who was born in Bombay and Russell Elliot, a smallholder, born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. One can only imagine the impact that this cosmopolitan settlement must have had on the native population of this quiet rural corner of Norfolk.
There are certain names that begin to appear at around this time that continue in the area today and demonstrate that some families did indeed put down deep roots. Families, such as that of Joseph Cowlishaw, Born in Stratford upon Avon he began his career as an engine fitter in the railway town of Swindon before settling at the colony sometime prior to 1901. His business as cycle agent, ironmonger and engineer, would have provided essential services to the running of the colony. Hugh Stainthorpe had been an insurance office clerk in his home town of Newcastle before moving to the colony with his Brother George. They went on to become poultry farmers and shop keepers as well as running the sub post office.
It is clear from anecdotal evidence that even when the fruit farm colony ceased to function as such; it was still, until relatively recent times, home to some interesting and rather exotic characters. It was my good fortune to meet, many years ago, a gentleman who had been a paperboy in Brookville in the 1940’s and although sadly, his name is long forgotten, I did have the foresight to commit to paper the stories he shared. He could recall with absolute clarity each household, who lived there and their individual eccentricities. There are too many to relate in this piece but some of the most interesting, I would like to share with you now.
In Scotts Lane there was Mr Hammond, the inventor, who drove around the district in a car on the roof of which he had installed a large propeller. He also managed to burn his house down whilst carrying out an experiment. Also resident in Scotts Lane were Mr and Mrs Cocker who reared Pugs. Mr Cocker would ride his penny farthing and Mrs Cocker, who was well over six feet tall, would walk behind with her brood of dogs. Another couple were Mr and Mrs Scott who were dog trainers. According to the account passed on to me, Mrs Scott made the most delicious Cherry jam which she would boil for twenty four hours.
Brook Glen was at the time, home to Mr and Mrs Slade, who made and sold toffee from the house and who posted the latest news bulletins on a blackboard outside the house, Mr Slade was also the author a pamphlet entitled ‘How to live on a penny’. Another resident of the road that merits a mention is Mr Freeman, who used to rear Silver Foxes but disappeared during the war amid rumours of him being a Fifth Columnist, or so the story goes.
These are just a few of the residents who came to call this former colony home. There are quite probably other families in the area who have stories to tell and who can trace their ancestors arrival in this small corner of Norfolk back to this very unique experiment and who can truly call their forbears pioneers.

Meet Toni Arthur-Hay Part 2

After my work in children’s programmes for the BBC I wrote and presented many Radio 4 series on subjects as diverse as folk song and folk music, medical history and medical lore, and a series on the Special Olympics. The series was called ‘Surprised by Joy’ about athletes with physical and mental disabilities and it coincided with the Special Olympics held in Dublin.
Senator Edward Kennedy was at the games I asked my producer ‘Shall I try to get him to do something for the show?’ He blanched and said; ‘You’ll never get near him’. To which I replied; ‘But he’d be great.’ I ran off, went straight up to Senator Kennedy and said; ‘Sir, I’m doing a programme for the BBC on the Special Olympics could you give me a few words, please?’ He smiled and said; ‘Meet be by that gate in precisely 15 mins and I’ll give you 5 mins chat.’ Senator Kennedy arrived exactly on time and said; ‘OK, little lady, what do you want me to say’ I just said; ’What makes Special Olympics special, sir?’ ‘I’ll tell you’ he said. Four minutes later he had given me a brilliant answer, kissed my hand and left on his helicopter.
I loved doing all those programmes and even stood in for Sue McGregor several times as a holiday replacement on Woman’s Hour. There were many TV programmes as well. I worked almost continuously.
In the early 80’s I was asked to write a book for children for Puffin called ‘All the Year Round’ which was listed as one of the top 10 children’s books of that time. The book was about how to celebrate every month of the year with folklore stories and awful jokes. I had written it while appearing as Aladdin with John Nettles and Henry Kelly at the Bath Theatre Royal. I wrote another book called ‘1000 ways to Amuse your Children’ while I was presenting TVAM Breakfast show with Henry Kelly when Mike and Mary Parkinson did half the year in Australia.
Together with David Wood and David Arthur I’ve written three plays that are still being performed by amateur and professional companies. I wrote the libretto for a Community Opera ‘Salomons’ Dream’ with music by Stephen Neff. I ran a Drama school in Tunbridge Wells giving five lessons an evening for two days a week. Was Artistic Director of two different Youth theatres. And have directed various productions all over the country.
I helped train the Police force at their national college in how to lose their formal ‘proceeding in a vehicle in a westerly direction’ to a more approachable style. This led to forming a Speaker Training company ‘Scott Arthur Associates’, with Philip Scott, whom I had met when he had been the pianist when I was in Pantomime in Aberdeen. Unfortunately, Philip died and that venture came to an end.
Eventually when age caught up with me and I was no use to TV I decided to go back to University to do the degree I mentioned earlier the University of East London. Here I met Malcolm Hay, my mentor, who was then Comedy Editor of Time Out Magazine; he had previously been a Visiting Professor in Dramatic Literature at University of Massachusetts as well as a well -known Theatre critic. He was a Senior Lecturer at University of East London.
We both eventually moved from London to Cambridge. Married in 1996 and then moved onto Northwold. The reason for the move was simple. We had between us some 10,000 books and needed room to house them. Our converted barn came up for sale and we went with Jonathan and his wife to see it. The rest is history. We fell in love with the house, the village, the county and the people.
In Northwold itself for a time I ran a drama school for two nights a week and put on an Olde Time Musical Hall for three nights in the Village Hall. For Northwold’s St Andrew’s Church I was asked to write and put on production of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. The cast were all from the village. It was to last 10 mins. We did it with a second to spare.
Malcolm is now registered blind but does have a little sight and we often go at London Theatres to keep up with current dramatic trends. If we can’t make a performance we buy the script and I get to play all the parts when I read it to Malcolm. I’m now Malcolm’s Carer. For a while I worked for Sure Start, in Thetford as a drama therapist and although I loved this work the hours were too long for me to be away. So I began to train comedians for their stage work. They came to Northwold for me to work on their script analysis and direct their show. Malcolm gave his professional critique of the final product. The village could often see quite well-known comics walking about as they rehearsed their material in time for the Edinburgh festival. One of the plays, ‘A Very Naughty Boy’ won a Fringe First Award and had its very first preview in our house. Approximately 40 local people crammed into one of our rooms to see it. What a delight and a laugh!!
To make sure we can stay in Northwold we now run a holiday cottage in order to keep the wolf from the door. We cannot imagine living anywhere else.
I have recently taken up oil painting. My style is Abstract Expressionism which I’m aware is not to everyone’s taste but I have been lucky enough to have sold some already.
Just to bring this right up to date as Norfolk and the Duke of Edinburgh are current news. I once went to go to Buckingham Palace to interview Prince Philip for BBC about The Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme. During the interview he asked, as I was a patron of the Tunbridge Wells Branch, why I wanted to interview him about the Award Scheme. I replied; ‘Well, Sir, you are the Duke of Edinburgh’. To which he replied ‘Yes, I suppose I am’ and roared with laughter. He was a very nice man. I had to wear a hat for this interview which got in the way of my headphones. I asked if I may remove the hat as I was not used to wearing one. ‘Of course,’ he said; ‘My daughter-in-law, Diana, doesn’t like wearing them either’.
There have been many things I’ve left out from serious acting in the West End, to editing the Caxton Encyclopaedia and to working as a journalist. Suffice it to say I have loved every minute of my life. But I’m now boring myself. I’ve been a Jill of all trades and possibly a mistress of none.
I’ve been very lucky. It’s been fun.

Stoke Ferry Ladies Group – April

Minutes of the meeting held on March 6th
Mrs Armsby welcomed 14 members, with a special welcome back to Janet Burns following her operation.
The minutes of the last meeting were read & signed.
CORRESPONDENCE Thankyou cards were received from Rosie O’Grady for our donation to Riding for the Disabled, & from Janet Burns for her card & flowers.
There are no birthdays in March, & there will be none for April either.
The April meeting will be a talk by Ian Grimes about his work with emergency blood bikes.
ROTAS Door & raffle Jean Carter & Yvonne Self.
Teas Sheila Smith & Claire Lankfer.
VOT Carol Thulbourne.
Mrs Armsby then introduced Peter Thorpe, who told us that he had always been a country boy. He was born in 1951 & lived with his parents in a farm cottage, where his father was a farm worker. They kept 2 pigs in the garden, which Peter helped to look after. One was sent to market, & the other slaughtered to provide pork for the family. Most of the work on the farm was still done with horses, & harvesting crops was labour-intensive. There was no money for holidays, but families would group together, & take the train to Hunstanton for a day trip. His first taste of real adventure was when he attended Downham Market secondary school, & joined a group of pupils on a cruise, which visited Spain, Gibraltar & Morocco. At 17 he enrolled at Easton College to study Agriculture. He also joined the local marriage bureau known as Downham Mkt Young Farmers Club, where he met his future wife Jane. In1971 he set up his own business doing contract work, but when this began to be unprofitable, he took a job on the Stradsett Estate, working for the Bagge family, & therein lies another tale!
Peter was thanked by Carol Thulboune.
The raffle was won by Gillian Smith, Hazel Hearne, Yvonne self & Janet Burns.
The meeting ended at 9.45pm.
Claire Lankfer

Ron’s Rambles – April


The Road to Destruction

It does seem as though the human race is set upon destroying the planet.  Global warming, if it is due to human activity and the consequent production of warming gases, is clearly a threat to our future.  If it is a result of other factors, which now seems to be unlikely, then we must await our fate.  Efforts to cut greenhouse gases to a safe level are not making much progress, carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise.  The big effort in this country is producing good results but what this country does has little impact on the global picture, even if we stopped producing any CO2 it would not have a noticeable effect.  With Donald Trump in the White House we might as well all give up.

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