Sam Peel, one of the most influential figures in Norfolk in the 20th century, is to have his story told for the first time in a new book written by his granddaughter

Sam Peel

Sam Peel

It has been said that there are few people, if any, who did more to shape Norfolk in the 20th century than Sam Peel.

Sue Wild has written a book on Sam Peel who was well known in Wells. Picture: Ian Burt

Sue Wild has written a book on Sam Peel who was well known in Wells. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

He oversaw the reorganisation of post-war education in the county, laid the foundations for the National Health Service in north Norfolk and took on the establishment in his tireless efforts to bring changes to improve the lives of ordinary people.

Now, 100 years after he entered public life, his story is to be told in full for the first time.

Mr Peel's granddaughter Susan Wild has written a book about him, called Sam Peel - A Man Who Did Different, which will go on sale later this month.

Miss Wild, who lives in Wells, said: 'People have been saying for years that I should do this, but I didn't think there was enough material for a book.

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'It was only after the Wells Discussion Group, which my grandfather helped to set up, asked me to give a talk on him in 2011 that I started to do more research. I learned just how much he had done for Norfolk.

'I decided that his story had to be told.'

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Mr Peel grew up in Wymondham. A printer by trade and of Quaker faith, he moved to Wells to recuperate from an illness in 1909, aged 31.

He stayed in Wells for the remaining 55 years of his life.

Mr Peel was appalled by the poverty in Wells and saw that nobody was doing anything to address the root causes.

He began by speaking to large crowds on the Quay, preaching the Gospel and warning against the effects of excessive alcohol on the working man's pocket, family and health.

This sparked fierce opposition from publicans.

Mr Peel opened a men's institute in hired rooms above a local shop to provide an alternative social setting to the pub and started adult schools there for both men and women.

He reopened the Quaker Meeting House in Wells and because of the large numbers that began to gather there, the property had to be doubled in size by 1912.

But Mr Peel entered politics in 1913 when he joined Wells Urban District Council.

He immediately set about campaigning for changes that would improve the quality of life for ordinary people.

His efforts to persuade the council to provide good housing were met with hostile opposition as some of the councillors were receiving rent from the slum-like accommodation that Mr Peel opposed.

His determination saw the first council houses built in Wells while the first world war was still in progress.

Mr Peel stirred up enormous opposition when he addressed the non-payment of rates by those who had the ability to pay.

He organised a peaceful protest that led to him appearing before the Bench of Walsingham Magistrate's Court. He was later chairman of that bench for 34 years.

Against more opposition, including physical attack, Mr Peel managed to change the rating system so that it was brought in line with other parts of the country.

This enabled the council to better meet the needs of local people.

As the first chairman of the Cromer Area Hospital Management Board, Mr Peel laid the foundations for the NHS in north Norfolk.

He was elected on to Norfolk County Council in 1919 on which he served for 44 years.

Mr Peel became known as the 'Father' of the council.

From 1943 to 1964 he was chairman of the Norfolk Education Committee and oversaw the re-organisation of post-war education in Norfolk.

Mr Peel was responsible for, amongst other things, the establishment of Holt Hall, Easton Agricultural College and Wymondham College.

He was part of the early discussions regarding the establishment of the University of East Anglia.

During Mr Peel's leadership, Norfolk became known as one of the best rural providers of education in England.

He was awarded an OBE and a Coronation Medal for his services to Norfolk and was fondly regarded as Norfolk's Clement Attlee.

Alderman Peel High School in Wells was named in Mr Peel's honour and was opened by him shortly before he died 50 years ago.

In a foreword to the book, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said Mr Peel probably did more than anyone to shape Norfolk in the 20th century.

Miss Wild said: 'I was nine when he died. I remember the house was always full of guests but I just remember him as granddad. He always made time for the family and was also lots of fun to be around.

'Writing this book has enabled me to realise just how great an impact he had.

'He was hated by the people who benefited from the corruption which he stood up to - there were times when people threatened to throw him into the sea.

'But none of that stopped him. He was driven by his faith and he didn't care for popularity.

'They simply don't make people like him now and it is important that he his remembered.'

The book will go on sale on June 22 and will be available in all Jarrold's book shops, Ashley Studios, Wells, Holt Book Shop and from Wells Local History Group, which published the book.

It will also be on sale during Alderman Peel High School's 50th anniversary celebrations on September 21.

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