Remembering David Armstrong - a fine life innings, well played

PUBLISHED: 10:19 25 March 2018

Brian Patrick - celebrating his 90th birthday today - as the Victorian diarist the Rev Benjamin Armstrong, with Benjamin's real-life great-grandson David Armstrong at the organ in a performance of All Preachers Great and Small at Happisburgh parish church.

Brian Patrick - celebrating his 90th birthday today - as the Victorian diarist the Rev Benjamin Armstrong, with Benjamin's real-life great-grandson David Armstrong at the organ in a performance of All Preachers Great and Small at Happisburgh parish church.


Keith Skipper pays tribute to David Armstrong, a great servant of local cricket and a descendant of a famous Norfolk diarist.

That scholarly air, attention to detail, slightly loping gait and well-modulated chuckle regularly allowed David Armstrong to stand out in a crowd encircling his beloved Lakenham cricket ground. An ideal backdrop for a sporting passion.

I lived next door to this precious green lung in a city from the late 1960s for over a decade. Norfolk headquarters steeped in history, a magnet for tomorrow’s summer hopefuls as well as those lining the boundary with glittering memories and hard-luck stories.

A proud innings closed in 2000. The county banner moved to Horsford. Lakenham turf gave way to posh housing, a trend apparently appealing to the Royal Norwich Golf Club at Hellesdon and Norwich Rugby Club at Beeston Hyrne.

David Armstrong, a former schoolmaster, would admonish me gently during homely chats about the changing face of Norfolk in recent years, especially when I mourned the loss of those arenas with a late result … “Development 3, Environment 0”. He had a much more forgiving nature.

His recent death at 81 inevitably turned a main spotlight on outstanding service to cricket as scorer, player, coach and key administrator. He was Norfolk secretary for 18 years and president from 2003 for four years. His wife Gail now fills that post and has been county membership secretary for 30 seasons.

David was also secretary of the Minor Counties Cricket Association from 1984 until 2001. On bowing out of that national role, he remarked: “If you take the last 50 years as a whole, I could not think of anything more important in my life than Norfolk County Cricket Club.”

I first met him at Lakenham on a day of unbroken sunshine, piles of runs and a crash course in history of the ground he had found captivating from the 1940s onwards. We played out our final little stand together last November when he defied growing health problems to attend the launch of my latest book, All Preachers Great and Small.

It was on my entertainment rounds carrying that name into more than 100 local churches and chapels that David played a memorable part as great-grandson of one of the performers on parade. The Rev Benjamin Armstrong was Vicar of East Dereham from 1850 until 1888 and kept a fascinating diary throughout.

Brian Patrick, also a former schoolteacher, put Armstrong’s “altar ego” on display to telling effect in these productions which also featured David Woodward and Jason Bell sharing the role of Parson James Woodforde, of Weston Longville, another impressive diary keeper. Brian played his part with rare relish, not least because he thought Armstrong deserved many more followers.

There were touching family “reunions” at Hemsby and Happisburgh parish churches as Brian stepped out as the Victorian vicar to welcome his young relative. David Armstrong played the organ for our hymns at Happisburgh, his regular duty for Sunday services and the venue for his funeral, not far from his Ridlington home.

He took great pride in family history, particularly the role played by his great-grandfather in chronicling events great and small from his mid-Norfolk base, “the first Vicar of Dereham to arrive by train to start an incumbency which encompassed 4367 baptisms and 1742 weddings”.

David passed on family manuscripts to his brother, Chris, who edited a third volume of the diaries, Under the Parson’s Nose, published by Larks Press in 2012. Earlier, extracts from the Dereham diaries were published in 1949 and 1963. Copies turn up frequently in local second-hand bookshops.

In a heart-warming funeral tribute to “a lovely man and a wonderful brother”, Chris Armstrong shared some of David’s “hobby horses he kept in his extensive stables”. He was intolerant of change generally, and on the cricket field especially, where he bemoaned deterioration in the behaviour of fielders.

“The constant chatter, hand-clapping and shouts from all quarters to David sounded more moronic than motivational. The best part of David’s fulminations was that they were expressed with such volume they tended to drown out the noise about which he was complaining!”

Chris also suggested “had Her Majesty ever decided to appoint a Pedant Laureate, David would have been a shoe-in. There’s hardly a supermarket till operator in Norfolk who hasn’t been told that the sign behind a till saying ‘Eight items or less’ should be altered immediately to say ‘Eight items or fewer’.”

Howzat for a perfectly-flighted delivery from a master of his trade at the Idiosyncratic End!

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