Cheers! Baby given brandy on doctor’s orders returns to Brisley pub 69 years later

John Nicholson returns to the Brisley Bell. Picture: Matthew Usher.

John Nicholson returns to the Brisley Bell. Picture: Matthew Usher.

These days premature babies are given the very best chance of survival in hospital neo-natal units, safely tucked in incubators and monitored on every breath and heartbeat.

The Bell Pub in Brisley - New owners Marcus Seaman and Ameila Nicholson. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The Bell Pub in Brisley - New owners Marcus Seaman and Ameila Nicholson. Picture: Matthew Usher.

But in 1947, in one of the worst winters on record, there was just one piece of medicinal advice for George and Lily Nicholson when their baby son was born at home three months early – fetch a tot of brandy.

Having already lost one premature baby the couple, who were living in Brisley, near Dereham, were desperate to keep their tiny newborn alive.

Weighing just three pounds their son John would benefit from the spirit's warming properties, which would help his breathing, said their doctor.

So without hesitation George donned a hat and coat and trudged through deep snow to the local pub, The Bell, to fetch the drink, while baby John was wrapped in cotton wool and placed in a shoebox as a makeshift incubator.

An old photo of The Brisley Bell Pub. Picture: Matthew Usher.

An old photo of The Brisley Bell Pub. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Whether it was the brandy that did the trick or just that John had a stronger constitution than they realised, nobody will ever know.

But nearly 69 years later the brandy-loving baby has paid his first visit to The Bell in person to share the story with its new owners and wish them well with a revival project of their own. Marcus Seaman and Amelia Nicholson – no relation to John – bought the now redundant pub last year and have ambitious plans to extend it and reopen in time for autumn.

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'I have passed through Brisley before but never actually been to the pub,' said Mr Nicholson, who was joined by wife Sandra.

'My parents were living in a bungalow called Olcote which was somewhere down the track by the pillbox and they ran a general store.

John Nicholson as a baby. Picture: Matthew Usher.

John Nicholson as a baby. Picture: Matthew Usher.

'The story goes that when my father was told to get the brandy he came here. I think that having lost one baby they weren't sure I was going to make it. My father said the snow was up to his thighs.'

Later the same year the Nicholson family moved to Lowestoft and by the time their son was old enough to go to school they had moved to Norwich.

Mr Nicholson, a retired cabinet and kitchen maker, and his wife now live in Taverham and, despite his early arrival into the world, he has lived a very healthy life with the couple raising three children of their own. They have also welcomed five grandchildren into the family.

'I haven't offered any of them brandy just yet,' he said. 'I'll wait until they are a bit older.'

Do you have a story of survival against the odds? Email kathryn.cross@archant.co.uk

Comment – Page 26.

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