Stoke Ferry History
On Saturday the 5th of November 1831 the Norfolk Chronicle reported; “We are sorry have to record another act of incendiarism, which took place Sunday night, in the vicinity of Stoke Ferry ; the amount of the loss cannot at present be ascertained, it must very great. The flames were visible at Lynn, a distance of 16 miles.” …………………… What was not reported were the probable thoughts of the arsonist’s wife: Well I’ll be blamed(1), my John’s nothing but a starving, unemployed and impoverished farm labourer, but he’s done it. He’d worked all the while on that farm only to lose out for speaking out against the new threshing machines that’re employed it seems on every farm from near and far. For his speaking out he lost his work and has been given the reputation as a drawlatch(2); though all he ever wished for was to work! The earth is bent by blades and machines.(3)Those threshing machines from Norwich and Thetford(4) can thresh thirty combs of wheat in ten hours with one horse and need but only two men and two women to attend it. What chance have we against such madness? The only way John and me could see was to wreck those accursed contraptions. How does a landowner keep his horses, asses and donkeys through the winter but turns his tenants out where there’s not a bit of work to be had nor bread for our babies’ mouths? I said to him, John, go show them and make them pay….burn down their houses and their barns, burn their ricks and stacks and burn those dammed machines(5). I never thought he had it in him. But he tells me he collected hot embers from the fire of Hammer & Trowel (6) went over the fields in the dead of night and he gave them a cant7) into the stack! The flames were seen as far as Lynn, I hear. ‘Till lately we had our scrap of filands(8) with grazing and winter fuel rights, but these are gone with the gentlemen’s enclosures. It’s left to what’s called poaching or thieving to get a bit of food to help us through these hard times. But rewards are posted for capture of those who break through ring-fence(9) and steal a gentleman’s game; and catch-rogues(10) are out and about in all the lands. Farmers have written that we should all away to Yorkshire where there’s paid work a-plenty.(11) But that’s not for us, we’ve heard the stories of the new wool mills of the North country…folks trapped indoors all the day, never see the light, and their children working alongside. The people who go there are as blind blossoms that bare no fruit(12). There’s a reward of £50 for information on my John. But no one will tell on him. We’re a close lot we are, in Stoke Ferry. …………………… (1) Blamed/Blame: East Anglican expression used instead of ‘damned’ or ‘damn’. This and other 19th century expressions used here come from, The Vocabulary of East Anglia. Published, 1830, it was compiled by the Reverend Robert Forby who was then the Rector for Fincham Parish. (2) Drawlatch: An idle person who will not work, also a thief in the night who tries the latches of doors. (3) A line from Tom Paulin’s poem, Now for the Orange Card. (4) Amongst the threshing machines manufactures of Norwich was the company, Cordwell and Brewster who were based in Golden Ball Lane. In 1808 their threshing machines were advertised at 60 Guineas each, which included installation and the first six months maintenance. An example of how local large landowners were mechanising farming can be seen from this notice from the Norfolk Chronicle, September 9, 1826: “STOKE FERRY, NORFOLK. For SALE by AUCTION, On Friday, the 15th day of September, 1826. ALL the Valuable Live FARMING STOCK, Agricultural Implements, &c. of the late CHARLES SANDERS, Esq. Consisting of …two excellent road waggons, two harvest d[itt]o. three muck tumbrils, corn and turnip drill, (by Burrell [of Thetford]), patent dressing machine, (by Messrs. Cordwell and Brewster), horse drag rake, two rolls, harrows, ploughs, chaff engine, Northumberland turnip drill … Sale of Implements to commence precisely at Eleven o'clock, refreshments will be provided for the company previous to the Sale of any Live Stock.” (5) At the turn of the century technological change in farming prompted great popular concern across the Eastern Region. This was particularly directed towards horse- or water-powered threshing machines. In our district, this change was coupled with the final stages of land drainage and the enclosure of lands in all our local Parishes. Eventually the concerns of the poor produced major disturbances in West Norfolk and Breckland. At the Norfolk Quarter Sessions in 1815, four labourers were imprisoned for rioting and destroying a threshing machine. In the same year starving, unemployed and impoverished farm labourers from the surrounding districts of Downham Market gathered and rioted. A further public disturbance followed shortly afterwards, during which two women and many men were arrested. These prisoners were tried at the Norfolk Assizes in August 1815. Sixteen were capitally convicted but only two of them, Daniel Harwood and Thomas Thody, were hanged. This was followed by major riots and looting in Brandon and Downham Market the following year. Rick burning and arson was another form of rural protest. In Britain in the early 19th century, setting fire to domestic and commercial premises, and “any stack of corn, grain, pulse, straw, hay or wood”, was punishable by death. Stack-burning was only removed from the list of capital crimes in 1837, but arson remained a serious offence that could incur a life sentence or punishment by transportation. The invention of the Lucifer match, in 1829, was timed perfectly for the “Swing riots” of 1830. During that violent year, fire engulfed all eastern English counties where labourers were paid pitifully low wages. (6) The Hammer and Trowel Ale House was on Oxborough Road, Stoke Ferry. It is now a private dwelling named Trowel House. (7) Cant; to throw with an upward jerk. (8) Filands; are ‘field lands’ of unenclosed arable land. (9) The modern financial term ‘ringfence’ dates from 1769. It comes from the practice of completely ring-fencing land that had been enclosed; thus preventing local people’s access to ancient rights of way, grazing, forage, etc. (10) Catch-rogues; was the name given in the region to constables, bailiffs or other persons appointed by landowners/magistrates to catch ‘offenders and trespassers’. (11) Local farmers expressed support for the new Poor Law Bill (passed in 1835). Under the new system Parish Relief in the form of donations of food, clothing, fuel, etc. was abolished and any poor relief could only be given in workhouses; where conditions were such as to deter any but the truly destitute from applying. In desperation, many of the rural poor ventured to the new manufacturing towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire. On December 26th, 1835, The Suffolk Chronicle published a long letter on this subject from a Stoke Ferry farmer who signed himself as ‘T’, he wrote; “…. I am assured by those who have lately visited our great manufacturing towns in the North, and on whose testimony the most implicit reliance may be placed… that the masters are willing engage new comers for three years certain….. But what wages do they give? If the man has a family partly grown up, he will make at least three or four times the amount he could earn by farm labour... Of thus much we may quite sure, that the old [Relief] system was fast ruining the farmers and labourers, the former in purse, the latter in morals; and, therefore, any change from such state of things, must be for the better. I am. Sir, ‘T’, your obedient Servant, Stoke Ferry, Dec. 22, 1835.” (12) Blind; is when blossoms fade away without baring fruit, this expression is still in common use today.