Norfolk on a stick: Village’s sign recalls talented Victorians literally poisoned by their jobs
PUBLISHED: 09:05 25 February 2019 | UPDATED: 09:16 25 February 2019
They left their mark on a Britain surging forward in science and discovery. Now DR ANDREW TULETT looks at the village sign which commemorates two memorable Victorians
Were these Victorian virtuosos of visual arts victims of their own vocation?
The first village sign at Longham was one of several in Norfolk erected to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Their names and the significant date ’29-7- 1981’ were also carved on it.
Two shields appeared below the inscription. The left-hand shield featured the arms of the Hastings family, prominent local farmers who lived at Hall Farm between 1757 and 1907. The right-hand shield contained the arms of the Earl of Leicester, Lord of the Manor, whose family seat is Holkham Hall.
An ostrich appeared between the two shields. Until 1958 ‘The Ostrich’ was also a public house in Longham.
The bird was taken as the family emblem by Sir Edward Coke, a lawyer of the late 1550s and early 1600s. He established the Holkham estate. His great-great-great grandson,
Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, was responsible for building the hall.
The old sign was replaced in July 2015 after being deemed irreparable.
The arms of the Earl of Leicester feature again, this time in full colour. However, it is St. Andrew’s Church which takes centre stage. Its tower was reduced in height in 1788 due to safety concerns. When the chancel was rebuilt in 1867 it was paid for by the Earl of Leicester. A tractor, pheasant and grey partridge represent the importance of agriculture to the area and the locally abundant wildlife.
Below the main scene, two Victorian contemporaries are depicted. These are the photographer Robert Howlett and the botanical artist Sarah Ann Drake.
Howlett is shown flanked by large iron chains. They reference his most famous photograph, that of Isambard Kingdom Brunel stood in front the huge metal launching chains of the SS Great Eastern in 1857.
Howlett had been commissioned by the Illustrated Times to produce a series of photographs to record the construction of the ship. When it was officially launched in 1858 it was the world’s largest steamship.
Howlett’s father had been vicar at St. Andrew’s Church and Howlett had lived at the vicarage as a child. His death in 1858 at the age of 27 has been variously attributed to poisoning caused by chemicals used in film processing, exhaustion due to overwork and the effects of typhoid.
His death certificate ambiguously notes ‘Fibris [fever] 20 days’.
He is buried in neighbouring Wendling.
Sarah Anne Drake is shown observing a flower. A memorial in the entrance to St. Andrew’s reads, “Sarah Anne Drake. Second wife of John Sutton Hastings. Born at Skeyton July 24th 1803. Died at Longham July 9th 1857. Friend and botanical illustrator to the orchidologist & saviour of the Botanic Garden Kew, Dr John Lindley who named the orchid genus Drakaea after her. This memorial was erected by admirers of her work in 2000.”
Drake illustrated around 1,300 species of plant between 1831 and 1847. The collections at Kew Gardens were the inspiration for the majority of her work. She specialised in orchids, but despite having a Genus of Western Australian orchid named after her and contributing to both ‘Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala’ and ‘Illustrations of the botany and other branches of the natural history of the Himalayan Mountains’ she never travelled to these exotic locations.
Drake returned to Norfolk from London in 1847 after her employer, ‘The Botanical Register’, closed. In 1852 Drake married John Sutton Hastings, whose family arms had adorned the original village sign.
Drake’s death certificate records ‘diabetes’ as the cause of her death at the age of 53, though the accumulation of toxins from her painting materials has also been implicated.
She is buried in the grounds of St. Andrew’s Church in the same grave as her husband and his first and third wives.
-Dr Tullett, from Lakenham, researched just about all of Norfolk’s 500-plus town and village signs as part of his Signs of a Norfolk Summer project. He now gives presentations on the topic, and anyone looking for a speaker can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more details of that and Norfolk’s other signs, visit the Signs of a Norfolk Summer page on Facebook, or search for “Norfolk on a stick” on www.edp24.co.uk