OPINION: Always in the market for a good old Norfolk story

Aylsham Market wandering and pondering a few bids and deals ago

Aylsham Market wandering and pondering a few bids and deals ago - Credit: Keith Skipper Collection

Once upon a Norfolk time not long ago the line “top end of the market” meant a rendezvous spot for bargain-hunters to meet, mingle and mardle.

I recall with relish weekly treats among the stalls and varied paraphernalia making up market days in Acle, Aylsham, Dereham, Diss¸ Fakenham, Great Yarmouth Swaffham and several others. Norwich, of course, has always set an inviting permanent example.

It remains a vibrant strand of local life, just as important for exchanging news and views as for buying kippers and slippers. Norfolk’s bush telegraph owes much to these regular gatherings packed with folk trying to sort worthwhile wheat from churlish chaff.

Early years as a local press reporter taught me to take seriously “talk of the market” topics as firm pointers of what many readers wanted to digest, either as news items, opinion pieces or letters to the editor. Spiteful gossip and deliberate exaggeration called for careful combing.

Plenty of amiable stirring surrounded far-reaching decisions being considered by councillors and officials at every level from parish pump to County Hall. I lost count of the number of times my investigative skills were tested by “Now, you didn’t hear this from me, right?”

That old ally “some sources seem to suggest” proved very handy but direct quotes and hard facts had to take front seats when it came to contentious planning applications, decisions and potential implications.

A fast-widening gap between interpretations of “change” and “progress”, plus increasing concerns about young natives being denied chances to put down Norfolk roots like parents and grandparents before them, emerged as key issues still raising hackles today.

Most Read

And that leads me neatly to a more up-to-date use of “top end of the market” in relation to a ridiculously inflated property price boom leaving stranded many more than just young hopefuls striving to clamber aboard any sort of rung on the housing ladder.

We were informed recently of a drastic shortage of mansions and other £1m-plus luxury homes for sale across Norfolk despite hot demand from prospective purchasers. It sounded like cause for embarrassment as estate agents wrung their hands in disappointment at missing out on a much-needed bonanza or two..

Now, you didn’t hear this from me, right? But certain sources high up the development chain are hinting gently at a revolutionary planning ploy to help things along at “top end of the market” while the building juggernaut continues its exciting charge across Norfolk.

The general idea is to encourage developers, especially in and around Norwich and Rackheath, to spice up all sizeable applications with a pledge to include a certain number of affordable mansions or similar dwellings to add obvious class, prestige and variety to more controversial schemes.

As always, local residents will be urged to “have your say” at “a full and frank public consultation” Those who might hesitate over following such helpful advice regarding attractive applications will go on a list of “unmansionables” to be circulated among members of that special fraternity responsible for driving development management policies.

All this speculation about “posh” houses brings back the potent smell of Mansion Polish from childhood days when I did my level best to avoid any kind of domestic chores. Our old cottage, which went with father’s job on the nearby farm, scrubbed up well, most notably after Friday night bath-time in front of the kitchen fire.

As a long-time honorary Crab on the north Norfolk coast, where mansions tend to be turned into care homes, I try to keep my nose out of issues engaging city and suburbs.

Even so, most who live there seem to drive Cromer way about once a week at this time of year to see what seaside traffic congestion looks and tastes like.

It’s fun comparing notes with all kinds of visitors who can’t understand why we still wear masks and observe social distancing in a packed town centre. I tell them we had a serious outbreak of complacency some years back during a flu epidemic which could have resulted in lifelong bans from entering Sheringham.

I continue to support Cromer’s open-air market next to the tourist information centre every Friday. It may not be at the top end of local attractions but still offers enough fresh gossip and memory-jogging to remind me how such little outings are valuable as we rehearse for revival of “normal” life.

Yes, you did hear that from me, right? 

Skip's Aside: It has been a period of deep reflection based in and around my home patch at the heart of Norfolk.

Precious connections with Beeston, still nestling between Red Barn Hill and the twisty climb to St Mary’s Church, called for fresh inspection with the loss of a clutch of colourful characters.

Brother Malcolm, known since childhood as Sprat, was number four off the Skipper production line, paving the way for my arrival around two years later. His death at 79 sparked warm memories of an uncompromising personality proud of his local roots.

Rev Jonathan Boston

Rev Jonathan Boston - Credit: Submitted

He clung steadfastly to his broad Norfolk accent and passion for farming, specialising in dairy duties, while honing his sporting skills on cricket, darts and bowls. We got on well by celebrating what we had in common and making light of differences in ways of making a living.

By touching coincidence, Mary Wales, widow of Alec, who ran Primrose Farm at Beeston for many years and counted Sprat among key members of his team, died recently after completing her grand Norfolk century.

More village links give cause for celebration after the passing of Albert Hudson, an entertaining figure from my sporting scrapbook . He played football and cricket for Beeston and commanded a leading role in pub sessions afterwards with singing and whistling renditions.

A good friend of more recent times completes this list of mid-Norfolk tributes. The Rev Jonathan Boston was Vicar of Horsford and St Faiths for over 20 years. He later took charge of Litcham and six other parishes, including Beeston. He died recently at 80.

Son of Canon Noel Boston, who made such a bold mark as Vicar of East Dereham before his death at 55 on a family holiday, Jonathan not only followed his father’s calling but inherited his passions for old musical instruments and firearms.

He was special guest performer at Beeston church in October, 2016, when I completed the final lap of Mardling and Music fundraising evenings with old friend Ian Prettyman.