‘I ordered the burning of the mill’ - the truth behind a ‘cinematic’ Norfolk arson
PUBLISHED: 07:45 20 October 2019
The drama leapt off the screen during the production of a film in the Norfolk countryside. Dr Andrew Tullett looks at the story behind the village sign that remembers the watermill that burned down - twice.
Hardingham's church is dedicated to Saint George.
It is, of course, St George himself that is depicted on horseback in combat with a dragon on the village sign. The church forms the backdrop to this emblematic fight between good and evil.
In the nave of St George's Church there are memorials to other conflicts. Four crosses returned from the First World War are mounted on a wall.
They comprise part of a poignant tribute to servicemen killed during the First and Second World Wars.
An empty shell case, now polished and inscribed 'From High Wood Aug 1916', remembers Geoffrey Stephen Walley who died during the Battle of the Somme at High Wood.
Geoffrey was the only son of the Rector of St George's Church at the time, Stephen Cawley Walley.
Another wall memorial, from an earlier conflict, is to Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards VC.
As a 27-year-old lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, he was awarded the highest military honour for his part in an attack on a fortified position at Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt on 13 September 1882.
It is the coat of arms of his family that appears in the centre of the sign.
The Edwards family seat was Hardingham Hall. The motto 'quid leges sine moribus' translates from Latin as 'what are laws without morals'.
The building shown on the right-hand side of the sign is Hardingham Watermill.
Buildings occupying this site have burned down twice. Once by accident and once deliberately.
On November 14, 1835 the Norfolk Chronicle reported that the mill had been destroyed by fire.
On May 27, 1966 a headline in The Times read, 'Hope of saving old mill fades'. The mill had been purchased for a production company who intended to set it alight it down during the filming of 'The Shuttered Room', a horror film starring Oliver Reed.
Despite a campaign to save it, the mill was burned down on May 30, 1966. It appears in flames in the last dramatic scene of the film.
A week later, on June 6, 1966, a letter appeared in The Times: "Sir, As director of the film, I was responsible for ordering the burning of the old mill at Hardingham, Norfolk. This mill was quite without architectural interest, had not been occupied for 40 years, and was so dangerously dilapidated that the road past it was closed to traffic as unsafe.
"Its outer appearance was grim and forbidding, and the photographs published in the newspapers all showed it artificially beautified by my film art department, with false windows, doors, shutters, & c.
"It was these photographs which roused the indignation of the rural preservationists, who had never previously taken the slightest interest in the place!
"Yours sincerely, David Green".
Above these main images are three figures. On the left is a ploughman at work, on the right is a blacksmith at an anvil, and in the centre is a symbol representing the Women's Institute.
Until it closed in 1913, The Plough was also the name of a public house in the village.
White's trade directory of 1883 names Miss Martha Day as a wheelwright and blacksmith in Hardingham. It seems likely that she inherited this business from her uncle, John Day.
The 1881 UK Census lists unmarried Martha Day as 'mistress - carpenter and smith (employ 2 men)'. On the 1871 UK Census John Day, aged 74 and a widower, is at the premises.
He is described as a 'wheelwright and blacksmith' and employed three men. Martha is listed as his niece. She also living in the same house as John in 1861 when Martha is identified as his 'housekeeper'.
The intertwined W and I flanked by a rose and maple leaf, is the original emblem of the Women's Institute. The two symbols represent the Canadian and British origins of the organisation. The first Women's Institute was founded in Ontario, Canada in 1897. In 1915 the first Women's Institute in Britain was established on the Island of Anglesey in Wales.
Hardingham WI raised the funds for the village sign at Hardingham, which was erected in 1981.
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-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 email@example.com. 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