2019 is a great year to celebrate some of Norfolk’s greatest characters

PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:33 01 June 2019

Much-admired Norfolk countryman Ted Eales with faithful companions along  the nature trail.  Picture: Keith Skipper Collection

Much-admired Norfolk countryman Ted Eales with faithful companions along the nature trail. Picture: Keith Skipper Collection


Keith Skipper didn’t have to look too hard to find Norfolk folk of note to celebrate in 2019

Geoffrey Dimock (MA Cantab) probably would have smiled enigmatically and then ticked my homework emphatically.

My old history teacher at Hamond's Grammar School in Swaffham during my post-Battle of Trafalgar introduction to a passion for the past gradually accepted a ploy that long and whimsical essays were worthy of useful marks.

He still tops many charts at old boys' reunions as a master of the old school who contributed as much to the informal as formal education of pupils. His love of many sports, especially football and cricket, endeared him even to those who much preferred Carrow Road and Trent Bridge to Cromwell's Roundheads or Clive of India.

Mr Dimock's uplifting influence was at work the other evening when I set myself the task of delving into a mountain of Norfolk books, cuttings and pamphlets to find a selection of milestones with which to dot a special tribute article.

Classroom history lessons didn't embrace many local connections beyond Boadicea, Edith Cavell, Robert Kett, Horatio Nelson, Thomas Paine, "Turnip" Townshend and Robert Walpole. Outstanding characters all - but I vowed to find a host of worthy companions on spreading my Norfolk wings.

My roles as writer, broadcaster, entertainer and constant investigator on social and working rounds lined up a long gallery of lively candidates from city, town and village. I can now manage a roll-call for all kinds of occasions asking for a bit of history on Norfolk bones.

This exercise had me searching through time for figures of note linked to specific anniversaries tied up with 2019. It seems a particularly rich year on that score, starting with two venerable blasts from the past.

Herbert de Losinga, founder and first Bishop of Norwich Cathedral, died nine centuries ago in July, 1119. Thomas Gresham, whose family set up the famous school named after them in Holt, considerably increased the influence of England as a Continental power during his years as merchant and government agent.. He was born in 1519.

One of my favourite comparatively unsung heroes of Norfolk history is Nathaniel Gill, who died 350 years ago. A keen Royalist, he was sequestered from his living at Burgh, the small community near Aylsham, but remained there defiantly for seven years.

He continued to marry and baptise his parishioners before being driven away to Bungay. He returned to Burgh at the Restoration and preached there on Christmas Day in 1660. He later also held the nearby living at Aylsham but retained Burgh, where he is buried.

Abbot Upcher set in motion the glorious work of landscape designer Humphry Repton at Sheringham Park early in the 19th century. "What infinite variety presents itself in this enchanting place!" enthused Upcher - but was destined never to live in the new house. He died at 35 in 1819 before it was finished.

Charles Elvin, born two centuries ago, became one of the most appealing figures in Victorian Norfolk. He owned and managed a large coach-building business in East Dereham with connections all over Europe and earned a national reputation in heraldry.

Three characters of a more modern vintage complete this little snapshot of Norfolk history, two of them leaving us half-a-century ago.

Jack Gladwin took control at Norwich Theatre Royal in 1926 and played a leading role for the next 30 years.

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A devastating fire in 1934 left the place in ruins but he masterminded a major rebuilding programme leading just 13 months later to a grand opening of a new Theatre Royal with the musical comedy, White Horse Inn.

Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer lived at Felbrigg Hall, near Cromer, and bequeathed the estate to the National Trust. He was an outstanding scholar and wrote several books with local themes. Norfolk in The Civil War, his celebrated portrait of a society in conflict, was first published in 1969, the year of his death.

I recall with pleasure a lengthy interview on Radio Norfolk in 1986 with countryman Ted Eales, who shared his love of Norfolk with people around the world.

Inevitably confused now and again with Ted Ellis, fellow local naturalist and broadcaster, Ted Eales was best known for appearances on Anglia Television's Countryman series. He was also one of the first wildlife cameramen on the world-famous Survival programmes.

Born a century ago in the coastguard station at Morston, overlooking the Blakeney Point National Trust reserve, he followed in his father's footsteps as summer warden there for 35 years.

Skip's aside

I don't go to London very often. That's the beauty of finding most of what you need and want in Norfolk.

When I do venture warily towards the capital by train, usually to catch up with old friends and remind them what they're missing, I book a seat in the Quiet Carriage.

It's a sort of refuge from technological mayhem for old-fashioned types who like to read real books and look out of the window to count the number of trees and green fields left.

Rest of the train seems to be taken up by diligent people on laptops and sundry devices, many of them chasing work chores that used to be done in big buildings designed for the digital age.

Now these earnest citizens wander around streets down below with a phone in one hand and plastic cup of coffee in the other. Perhaps they're trying to find out who bothers to go to work in an orthodox manner these days: "Hello, who is that at my old desk?"

I can't understand all this fuss about cutting a few minutes off journeys between Norwich and London. Surely those who do most of their work on trains can gainfully employ whatever time comes their way, including the odd extra half-hour in Stowmarket and Stratford.

"Norwich in 90" isn't half as lyrical as "Cromer in 50" or "Sheringham In A Few More". Salhouse, Hoveton & Wroxham, Worstead, North Walsham, Gunton and Roughton Road may have catchy little slogans of their own to capture unfading glories of the Bittern Line.

Passengers, many of them holidaymakers at this time of year, look forward to the odd delay once ever-sprawling development on Norwich outskirts has been left behind. First glimpses of the Broads, cornfields thinking about finding gold, sudden sniffs of ozone and a strange new town emerging near the North Walsham halt all deserve lingering attention.

I have been a regular rail user since 1955 as scatty scholar, media mogul, plebeian playboy, cheerful chatterer and gallivanting gazer. Sometimes it's been better to travel than to arrive. Still, several trips of recent times have been marred by prattling mobile phone shriekers.

Even so, trains take away many strains. And you can limit those capital pains.

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