Reclamation legend writes book about old Norfolk

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 4

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 40s and 50s - Credit: Brittany Woodman

All of Norfolk is in Mike Harmer's house.

The bannisters were salvaged from a property in Sheringham and a door from a rectory in Coltishall. Floorboards were taken from a North Walsham pub and the fireplace from a demolished hotel on the Golden Mile in Great Yarmouth. The bricks, Norfolk reds, were reclaimed from Thursford while the tiles once sat on top of Rugg's Hall in Felmingham.

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 4

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 40s and 50s - Credit: Brittany Woodman

It is fitting that Mr Harmer, 79, lives in such a house, as the man himself overflows with stories from villages and towns all over the county.

From the reclamation yard he owns and runs in Spa Common just outside North Walsham, he travels around north Norfolk, buying up materials from old buildings - and it is during those trips he soaks up stories.

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 4

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 40s and 50s. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Mr Harmer was born to Romany parents.

"My mother, Mary Lamb, spoke fluent Romany and my father, a horse trader, was part Romany," he says.

"I lived in two worlds growing up. When I was at home I was a Romany and when I was with the other children at school, I was a gorgio."

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That is the Romany word for a settled person.

The Lamb family circa 1900. Mike Harmer's mother was a Lamb. Pictures: Mike Harmer

The Lamb family circa 1900. Mike Harmer's mother was a Lamb. Pictures: Mike Harmer - Credit: Archant

By the local standards of the time, his parents were fairly well off. They worked all the time, buying and selling scrap. Their children went to the cinema almost every night.

In 1963, Mr Harmer set up his own reclamation business.

Mike Harmer in a Bow Top Vardo he built. Picture: Nick White

Mike Harmer in a Bow Top Vardo he built. Picture: Nick White - Credit: Archant

There have been good times, "the glory days of demolition", as he calls them, during the 1970s, but there have also been lean years.

"I've had times when I hadn't a pot to pee in. Sometimes I've been down to my last shilling," says Mr Harmer.

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 4

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 40s and 50s. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Brittany Woodman

He has already written two books about his life, 'Kaka, Rokker Romany' and 'The Romany Chal', both exploring growing up in Norfolk in the 1940s and 1950s.

"Everybody said, 'You have to write a book'. I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday but I can remember what happened 60 years ago," says Mr Harmer.

Now he has written a third, 'King of the Commons', this book digging deeper into time to the life of his grandfather, Butty Lamb, a horse trader who moved from Thetford Forest to settle in North Walsham in 1914.

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 4

Mike Harmer, 79 years old, has written three books about being brought up Romani in Norfolk in the 40s and 50s. Mike Harmer with a 2000 stone. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Brittany Woodman

His friend, Nick White, said: "It paints quite a good picture of rural Norfolk life of that era."

The book is available in Jarrolds, the Showcase Gallery in North Walsham and on Mr Harmer's website: www.mikeharmerofnorfolk.co.uk.

Some of Mike Harmer's relations beside a nice old vardo, wagon. Pictures: Mike Harmer

Some of Mike Harmer's relations beside a nice old vardo, wagon. Pictures: Mike Harmer - Credit: Archant




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