An incomer's observations that still ring true, 51 years on
PUBLISHED: 10:47 23 June 2018
A 1967 EDP article by a newcomer to Norfolk gives Keith Skipper pause for thought.
Even Allan Smethurst, who delivered countless parcels of nostalgia as the much-loved Singing Postman, was forced to warble plaintively as he pedalled: “Yew Carnt Keep Livin’ In The Past”.
However, that should not preclude an occasional dip into some of our Norfolk yesterdays to help make a little sense of how we arrived at today’s much more demanding examination room.
Some will call it exciting and inevitable change. Others must label it dangerous and unprecedented pressure. All should agree there are vital questions yet to be answered more honestly on both sides of the test paper, particularly under the heading of “Progress Without Pain”.
I have been pointed towards a highly-revealing article, first published in the Eastern Daily Press on June 25, 1967, written by newcomer to Norfolk, Sheila Robinson. She unwraps her rural Northamptonshire roots and immediately smothers any romantic notions about growing up in a picturesque village…
“Until 1952 there was no piped water or mains drainage. There was nothing romantic, especially in winter, about drawing water from a well, or journeying the length of the garden to the earth closet.”
I had to nod my head, admit I’d been there and still had the tee-shirt bearing the legend: “I know what a hunnycart is for”. Another deep sigh of recognition as she lamented: “Apart from agriculture, there was little employment and money was always short.”
Sheila’s refreshing candour about the recent past is matched by a startling honesty when it comes to the role of newcomers like herself just over half-a-century ago. Familiar echoes here: “Already there are signs of change and expansion in Norfolk and my natural inclination is to object.
“But before I start to protest against spoliation of this delightful county, I have to remind myself sharply that I am a newcomer and my feelings are irrelevant. The trouble with us incomers, whether we have lived here for ten years or ten minutes, is that we are so vocal. We are the ones who write indignant letters to the newspapers and get up the ‘Hands Off Norfolk’ petitions, and generally carry on as though we represent Norfolk opinion.”
I wonder how many other people moving to Norfolk on big waves of development since have settled for such a clear non-interference policy? My strong feeling, based on well over five decades of watching, listening, reporting, broadcasting and writing about local life, is ‘precious few’.
There’s still a lingering perception that some incomers are too keen to call for big changes bound to damage those very qualities attracting them to Norfolk in the first place. That’s a major conundrum currently at the heart of an ever-expanding tourism trade.
Sheila Robinson’s 1967 reflections may be dismissed today as rather naïve and patronising, shared from a position of comparative comfort in a spot she clearly admired. Nevertheless, they offer valuable pointers as to how one of the most significant debates in modern Norfolk history has been transformed.
She claimed: “Those of us who come to Norfolk by choice are in a privileged position. We come as professional business people, or to retire, or to paint, or to breed dogs, and come here because Norfolk attracts us. We also come, if we care to admit it, because property values are comparatively low.
“We buy and modernise old houses or build ourselves spanking new ones. We install the sewage disposal system that the local authority is too poor to provide and then we settle down to appreciate the delights of Norfolk village life. Naturally, we resent the threat of developments that would threaten our view...”
Her parting shots offer plenty of food for fresh thought alongside a rare degree of far-seeing concern for generations to come: “The fate of the county does not lie with the immigrant professional people or the artists or those who come in to retire. The people who really matter are those who are born and grow up and work here.
“The important thing is that the young people of Norfolk should be able to find good jobs and opportunities and decent homes without leaving their county. And if that means Norfolk has to accept the prospect of more industry, more houses and more people, then who are we, the incomers, to object?”
Well, 51 years on, it seems we are getting one without the other. Home-grown youngsters still wait for a proper home-grown future.